The U.S. Department of Transportation will launch an intelligent vehicle operational test of a system designed to help drivers avoid run-off-the-road crashes. The system warns drivers when they are about to drift off the road and crash into an obstacle or are traveling too fast for an upcoming curve.

The test will take place in Detroit and will involve about 120 drivers ranging in age from 18 to 70. The test will last three years, with on-road testing starting in 2003. Testing will assess the maturity of system technology to support its commercial deployment, predict driver acceptance and evaluate the safety implications of deployment.

The technology warns of an imminent collision, but the driver retains control of the vehicle. The system operates on straight and curved paved roads, as well as in day or night and in light rain.

Run-off-the-road crashes account for more than 20 percent of all police-reported crashes (1.2 million a year) and more than 41 percent of all in-vehicle fatalities (15,000 a year). The test system has the potential to prevent run-off-the-road crashes caused by driver inattention, distraction, drowsiness and excessive speed.