Soon, your car may watch you to make sure you watch the road

Try as they might, safety advocates and lawmakers in Oklahoma and around the nation have made little headway in the ongoing battle against distracted driving. Now, car manufacturers are joining the campaign with the adoption of new technology that they hope will make a difference: built-in driver monitoring systems.

American auto giant General Motors announced recently that it will begin using technology that allows cars to track drivers' eye and head movements to verify that he or she is watching the road. The vehicle manufacturer says it has agreed to purchase 500,000 of the devices over the next five years.

The systems use cameras to monitor the position of a driver's head and pupils. It then plugs that data into an algorithm to calculate whether a driver has spent too much time looking away from the road and rearview mirrors. When the computer detects that a driver's attention may be flagging, or that he or she may be nodding off, the system issues an alert to the driver and suggests corrective action.

Similar systems have been developed to help prevent fatigue- and distraction-related accidents in the aviation, trucking and railroad industries. Other car manufacturers, including Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, have also begun to adopt similar driver-monitoring technologies. If these systems prove effective at keeping drivers focused and alert, they could become even more widely implemented in the years to come.

Distracted driving in Oklahoma and beyond

Distracted driving is a leading cause of car accidents in the United States and has been a growing safety concern in an era in which people are increasingly unwilling to put down their cellphones while on the road. According to statistics cited on distraction.gov, the U.S. government's distracted driving awareness website, there are an estimated 660,000 drivers using handheld mobile devices on U.S. roads at all times during daylight hours.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrate estimates that distracted driving was responsible for about 15 percent of crash-related costs in 2010, at a total of about $129 billion - not to mention the human costs of pain, suffering and loss of life that cannot be measured in financial terms.

Despite repeated efforts by lawmakers, Oklahoma remains one of only a handful of states in the U.S. without a specific ban on texting while driving. However, this does not mean that texting drivers cannot be held responsible for causing accidents and injuries.

People who are hurt by distracted or otherwise negligent drivers in Oklahoma have a right to seek monetary compensation through the civil legal system. Injured crash victims and their families are encouraged to contact a personal injury law firm to discuss the possibility of pursuing a claim for their injuries, medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.