Alert pal for bridge bus drivers

Local | Charlotte Luo 1 Mar 2019

A bus firm operating on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge has become the first to switch on an alarm system to counter drivers from falling asleep at the wheel.

Cross-border shuttle firm HZM Bus has installed a stay-awake mechanism on all its "golden buses" operating on the bridge.

The move comes with HZM running a fleet of 162 buses 24 hours a day since the bridge's opening.

Some 242 drivers need to work overnight shifts on a bridge where the road is virtually straight and the scenery monotonous - a dangerous recipe for dozing off.

Managing director Li Yangbo said the company developed the vehicle safety monitoring system and installed it in all buses before they hit the road on the day the bridge opened on October 24.

The system is also being installed in 40 new double-deckers the company bought in Germany and has shipped to Hong Kong.

It consists of a surveillance camera to check the status of drivers. It is activated if the camera and back-up mechanism senses a driver has closed their eyes for longer than is safe. An alarm will then sound.

And drivers must press a red button near the steering wheel every 10 minutes to show they are awake. If a driver fails to press the button the system sounds an alarm.

Checkers manning the 24-hour control center will also monitor the status of drivers.

And if they fall asleep but the system fails to wake them someone will call up the driver.

Some other bus operators are currently testing similar systems. Kowloon Motor Bus is trialing five systems from different suppliers.

It is expected the systems will be installed on buses gradually from the third quarter of this year.

All five systems adopt facial recognition technology to detect whether a driver is sleepy.

If a driver closes their eyes for a while the system sets off an alert.

The systems depend largely on sight and sound to keep drivers alert, though some also incorporate seats that vibrate.

And among systems KMB is testing are several that are used in Australia, Japan and Singapore.

The operator will also collect opinions from drivers to double check a particular system suits the needs of Hong Kong's roads and enhances driving safety.

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