Automakers Working on Cars That Will Pull Over if Driver Has Heart Attack or Stroke

Mazda is working to develop cars that can detect when drivers are having a stroke or a heart attack and pull over in a safe spot as quickly as possible, the Associated Press reported. The in-progress feature would be the newest development in an increasingly advanced market of vehicles that have the ability to park themselves, give warnings to drowsy drivers and steer themselves back into lanes after drifting.

Mazda has been collaborating with medical experts, including from the Tsukuba University Hospital, to research what a healthy driver versus an unhealthy or incapacitated driver would look like, the Japanese company told reporters. Once the Co-Pilot Concept feature detects an issue, such as the driver slumped over the steering wheel, it would stop the car on the curb of the road or another safe spot, the AP reported.

The car would also make an emergency call to the police and an ambulance, honk its horn, and flash the blinker and hazard lights to alert others nearby, according to Mazda. The automaker said that by 2025, the cars would be able to detect when drivers are about to experience a health issue and warn them.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Mazda Detection Feature
The cars Mazda has in the works for next year in Japan know when drivers have a stroke or heart attack. This photo provided by Mazda Motor Corp., shows the Mazda Co-Pilot Concept car in Miyoshi, Hiroshima prefecture, western Japan, on September 30. Mazda Motor Corp. via AP

What's involved are data from cameras inside the car, without resorting to laser sensors or other more obtrusive technology. And it's going to be offered in affordable models, not just luxury vehicles. The technology holds promise for one of the most advanced aging societies in the world.

Other major automakers, including Volkswagen of Germany and Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp., are working on similar technology.

Mazda plans to offer the technology in Europe after Japan. Mazda wants to wait and see before offering it in the U.S. because it believes questions remain about their social acceptance, although similar systems that stop vehicles are already being offered by rivals.

As for privacy concerns, the personal data does not leave the car, according to Mazda.

Takahiro Tochioka, the engineer in charge, said Mazda is working on ways to predict a health problem that may be coming even if the driver may not be conscious of it.

What the car will be looking for are the ways people focus their vision, the swaying of their heads, slight aberrations in driving habits and other subtle changes, he said.

"And it will warn drivers even before actual symptoms appear," he told reporters proudly.

"But understanding and cooperation from the drivers around that car is crucial for this technology to work."

Mazda is hoping the Japanese public will see a driver in distress and help them since an assumption of widespread public goodwill is characteristic of Japan.

The technology will empower people to keep driving through their lifetime, and will help reassure families and friends not to be worried, Tochioka said. Offering Co-Pilot will also allow Mazda to get feedback from real-life users, he said.

Mazda Co-Pilot Concept
Mazda is working to develop cars that can detect when drivers are having a stroke or a heart attack and pull over in a safe spot as quickly as possible. The Mazda Logo is seen on April 10, 2020 in Dortmund, Germany. Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images