IT HAPPENS with startling frequency: a driver is motoring along when all of a sudden they are incapacited by a medical problem.
Heart attacks, strokes, fits and other severe medical emergencies can and do happen when driving - affecting both the young and old - and while the event in itself can be tragic, it can also turn the car into an unguided missile.
To combat the problem, BMW has announced that it will be developing a system that detects when drivers are in distress or have lost consciousness.
If an emergency is detected, the system will turn on the hazard lights, gently steer the car to the edge of the road (while avoiding surrounding traffic), come to a stop and alert the police and ambulance to the problem.
Called the 'Emergency Stop Assistant', the technology is being developed to work on freeway environments that allow the various on-board anti-collision radar systems to work at their best.
"In order to keep a limit on the variety of possible driving situations, which vary infinitely in complexity, we are developing the prototype of our Emergency Stop Assistant initially for use on motorways and sections of roads resembling motorways," said Ralf Decke from BMW Group's Research and Technology division.
The Emergency Stop Assistant utilises data from the vehicle's lane departure warning system, active cruise control system and various radar sensors to safely guide a (essentially driver-less) vehicle to safety.
An introduction date for the technology is still some distance away.