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Emotion Detectors Studied To Make Driving Safer

Angry Driving is DangerousAs anyone who has driven while upset can probably attest, getting behind the wheel isn’t a good place to be in an aggressive mood.

It can lead to road rage and not being aware of what’s happening around you, which isn’t a good idea when you’re surrounded by drivers going different directions at different speeds.

Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne have recently started using technology in vehicles to read and identify facial expressions for seven universal emotions: fear, anger, joy, sadness, disgust, surprise and suspicion. Using an infrared camera placed behind the steering wheel, researchers are trying to recognize irritation on the face of a driver.

One idea behind the research is that someday an emotional detector could be used in a car to improve driver safety. Driver distraction and fatigue could also be measured someday.

The researchers tracked expressions of anger and disgust, which are similar to anger, by taking photos of people expressing such emotions.

Why drivers get angry

Along with the frustrations that can come with driving, drivers may also be upset about a recent argument or something else that has happened to them. That can lead to feeling out of control and transferring those feeling when in a car, says Kathy Gruver, a health and wellness expert who specializes in stress.

“People feel anonymous and shielded in their vehicle so it gives them the feeling of invincibility,” Gruver says. “You can cut the person off, not let them pass or speed up on top of them with little consequence. We can’t control the stress or external circumstance so we control you not getting on the freeway in front of me.”

An angry driver can feel more powerful behind something bigger than himself — a vehicle — and the vehicle can then be used to display aggression, says Kimberly Friedmutter, a life management expert.

“This sense of power and speed is intoxicating simply because the brain is biochemically altered with adrenalin and various other ‘go’ chemicals,” Friedmutter says. “In the wild kingdom, an animal displaying signs of aggression would find those around him becoming submissive to him.”

How to deal with other drivers’ anger

To deal with such a driver, it’s a good idea to pull over to the side of the road or do something else submissive as a driver and let the aggressive driver look for his “fight” elsewhere, she says.

Spotting an aggressive driver isn’t difficult. They may speed, change lanes erratically, not use their signals, and cut drivers off.

“If they want to go 90, just get out of the way rather than being stubborn yourself,” Gruver says. “If you realize you are angry or upset, it’s best to not be driving.”

Deep breathing exercises can help, she suggests. Called a “mini meditation,” she recommends concentrating on a breath and while inhaling, think “I am,” and on the exhales think “at peace” and repeat. A few minutes of this should calm the stress response and decrease anger, Gruver says.

A simple solution: Eat

The simplest solution to “driving mad” may be because drivers are hungry and their blood sugar is too low, says Jan Patenaude, director of medical nutrition at Oxford Biomedical Technologies.

Anyone who hasn’t eaten since dinner the night before, then skipped breakfast during their morning commute, and is back in the commute at 5 p.m. after only eating lunch will likely be hungry and have low blood sugar, Patenaude says. This can cause them to be angry.

The good news about the researchers’ findings is that so far it’s difficult for the camera to recognize irritation on the face of a driver. People express their feelings differently, such as with a kick, epithet, nervous tic or an impassive face. Some outwardly show anger on their faces.

Someday, in an effort to get drivers to stop driving when they’re angry, a steering wheel camera could quickly find facial clues and warn them to pull over and wait it out. Or there could be technology to read a driver’s lips and use vocal recognition to determine if they’re angry.

The solution for upset drivers, luckily, could be as close as they’re lunchbox.