How Auto Tech Can Help Lower Your Heart Rate During Driving

Written by Stephanie Baun

Whether you’re a newbie driver or have decades of road time under your belt, driving can be an inherently stressful activity. Reading the statistics is enough to boost anyone’s heart rate, and certain driving situations have been shown to be especially stressful.

Even if you’ve never been in a car crash, you might be surprised that there are over 6 million car crashes every year — or about five every second of every day. Fortunately, the great majority of these are minor, but a relative few result in serious injury and death, with the National Safety Council estimating more than 40,000 fatalities in 2017.

When guiding a two-ton vehicle at any speed, even the slightest mistake can lead to disaster. Add in the daily stresses of life, ever-changing weather, road and traffic conditions, and unpredictable pedestrians and drivers, and it only takes the millisecond of a sneeze to cause serious problems. Understandably, this can make it more difficult to remain calm and keep your heart rate down while you’re behind the wheel.

Automakers are well aware of this fact. That’s why they’re developing tech that can help keep your heart rate at a peaceful pace and make driving that much safer.

Ways to Reduce Stress on Modern Roadways

Luckily, there are many ways to reduce stress and lower your heart rate while you’re driving, which is imperative to the safety of all motorists. Living a healthy lifestyle, doing breathing exercises, stretching, meditating and certain kinds of music are all proven to reduce stress. New research suggests technology can do the same thing — but in a slightly different way.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studied the effect of new car technology on study participants’ heart rates. Part of their research shows that driving stress is on the rise, with longer commutes and worsening traffic congestion. At the time, MIT was working with Ford Motor Company to study how driver assistance technologies affected the minds and hearts of its drivers.

Automotive Technology Noticeably Lowers Your Heart Rate

Dozens of participating drivers were fitted with heart-rate monitors and sent out on city streets to perform a dozen parallel parking maneuvers. The MIT study mentions that parallel parking is one of the most feared maneuvers among drivers and that 31 percent of people in the U.S. avoid it whenever possible. When the study participants parallel parked manually, their heart rate averaged 83 beats per minute (bpm) over six attempts. Then, using Ford Active Park Assist, which automatically controls the steering wheel, these very same drivers averaged 71 bpm. The driver-assistance tech lowered their heart rates by an astonishing 14.5 percent — a significant margin.

In a second test, 42 participants were placed in a Boston parking garage and told to back out onto the street. Over half a dozen attempts were made manually, requiring drivers to use their mirrors and turn around to look out the back windows. The other half-dozen attempts were made using Ford Cross-Traffic Alert, which uses cameras and sensors to detect pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle traffic coming from the sides. In this part of the study, drivers experienced a 5 percent decrease in heart rate and perceived stress.

Taking Away Control or Helping Us Lead Better Lives?

Automotive purists suggest that driver assistance technology is more about taking control away from the driver and that the ultimate iteration — autonomous vehicles — will eliminate all joy from driving. On the other hand, driver assistance technology — such as blind-spot monitoring, lane monitoring, lane keeping, distraction monitoring, drowsiness monitoring and active cruise control — is a progressive step towards safer driving.

If not for life and limb, then what use would we have for important safety technologies such as seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, antilock brakes and electronic stability control? Driver assistance technology is simply an extension of these, helping to take some of the mental load off driving — reducing stress and lowering the heart rate — so drivers can focus on getting to their destinations.

Modern and Future Stress-Reducing Auto Tech

Today, blind-spot monitoring alerts drivers to obstacles during lane-change maneuvers, parking assistance simplifies parking in reverse, cross-traffic alerts reduce car crashes and rear-view and side-view cameras ease all kinds of driving dangers. Pre-collision autonomous braking can prevent or reduce the severity of car crashes. Many vehicles made within the last decade already include at least one of these technologies.

In the near future, autonomous vehicles might be able to take control of driving altogether, from parking and city streets to highways and your final destination. Purists might object, but human error accounts for more than 90 percent of car crashes. Putting driving in the “hands” of artificial intelligence (AI) could save thousands of lives.

An AI car, for example, could detect the driver’s mood and heart rate, changing ambient lighting, music or sound to counteract it. Adaptive headlights might adjust to improve night vision, and vehicle telematics could help drivers avoid bad weather.

Science and medicine already agree that stress can have negative health effects. Allowing modern auto tech to reduce the load could literally be a lifesaver.

Stephanie Braun is a director of Auto Product Management at Esurance, where she is responsible for designing the company’s auto product lines and managing telematics programs like DriveSense Mobile. Stephanie has 11 years of experience in the industry, focused primarily on product design and launch, pricing and product innovation. She currently writes for Esurance about auto innovations and their effects on the insurance industry. To learn more about Esurance’s car insurance options, click here.

32 comments

Deborah S
Deborah S8 days ago

Thank you

SEND
Ruth S
Ruth S8 days ago

Thanks.

SEND
Winn A
Winn A9 days ago

Thanks

SEND
Winn A
Winn A9 days ago

I can still drive and parallel park without problems.

SEND
Anne M
Anne Moran9 days ago

I don’t drive,, I walk...

SEND
Carole R
Carole R9 days ago

This actually could make driving safer.

SEND
Sandra V
Sandra Vito9 days ago

Thanks

SEND
Sandra V
Sandra Vito9 days ago

Thanks

SEND
Christine D
Christine D10 days ago

While I feel we need to be less dependent on technology, these are fantastic tools to help drivers stay safe in our fast-paced world. I hate parallel parking and I always search for a parking spot where I can just drive straight out without the need to back up. I had neck surgery years ago and backing up while turned around to look out the back window is too difficult for me. If I need to back up, I do like a trucker, use my mirrors and go VERY slowly.

SEND
Wesley S
Wesley S10 days ago

Although I can relatively easily parallel-park, I'd sure enjoy the assist in those situations where I must do so (esp. with lots of other traffic around). That saidm I enjoy driving - always have - even with what seems like more and more real idiots out there.

SEND