Have you seen the Angel of Death? You many not have seen him, but I did. In a split second, I saw him approaching with a scary face to pull my sole out. But with a sheer luck I escaped, after I almost resigned myself to the inevitable fate. 

The beginning started when I was driving my car in a drizzly morning on Route IL-38. The sky was overcast, and the sun was hiding behind heavy layers of clouds. I was heading to the city of Geneva to meet Mr. Art Paganessi, the Vice President of S&N manufacturing. The reason for the meeting was to discuss issues related to the design of a Solenoid to be used in Caterpillar’s earth moving equipment. 

I had about 24 miles to drive from my home city, Dekalb, IL, to S&N manufacturing in Geneva. My concern was to make sure that I arrive on time for my meeting. I had enough time to arrive early to my destination, but my only worry was about the cunning police of Illinois who have nothing to do except setting traps to catch poor speeding motorists like me. I was not in the mood to try to outsmart them, as I used to do. Therefore, I decided to drive at the speed limit by setting the cruse control to 55 MPH. I did not worry about slipping in the rain, since my car was an all wheel drive (AWD) Buick Rendezvous SUV, which should handle the slippery road without a problem.  The car in front of me was traveling with the same speed, and I didn’t need to adjust the cruse control very often. 

The steady humming from the tire and the regular squeaking of the wiper, mixed with the splashing noise of the rain, gave an aura of serenity. The relaxing atmosphere eased the driving tension and relaxed my muscles. As usual, I started wondering about unrelated issues here and there. While I was in this imaginary world, I felt drowsy with heavy eyelids . I realized that I am starting to lose contact with my surroundings. 

To keep myself awake, I began to sing some nonsense lyrics that I invented on the spot. After a while, I got annoyed with my ugly voice and I experimented with other awakening techniques. I tried shaking my legs violently left and right. When this failed, I started shaking my face with my hand. And when I got tired, I began pinching my legs. Soon it became apparent that singing, pinching, shaking, or even howling are useless, since I became more sleepy. I felt like a self propelled lawn mower with empty gas tank. The machine will not propel itself, regardless of how hard you cheer it to go. A sleepy man can not be self awakening, the only thing that he can do is dreaming. 

Dreaming! That what I was doing when I opened my eyes to discover to my horror that I am only about 6 feet from the rear of a slowing car in front of me. The breaks light of that car was illuminating bloody red, and the left hand side signal was blinking. The car was about to turn left on the next street, just 10 feet away. 

I realized that I am doomed, and there is nothing to save me from crashing into that car. Unconsciously I pressed the break very hard and turned my car sharply to the right. Fortunately, the car jumped on the road shoulder just in time to avoid an eminent accident. 

I was very lucky that time. The AWD system saved me. It took over the breaking system and prevented the car from slipping or rotating. If this happened, I would have been with my car in a ditch beside the road. The angel of death would have been rubbing his hand with eagerness to finish his assignment. But thanks to the AWD system, it  worked as designed. 

This incidence was so fast that I did not comprehend what happened till I heard the horn of the car behind me. The sound from the horn was mixed with tire squeaking rippling with a steam of insulting statements. As if insults were not enough, he did not forget to gesture with his hand to me. The driver was apparently very upset of my sudden maneuvering that almost caused him to have an accident. 

I was shaking, but thanked God for escaping an unpleasant fate. I went back on the road. And after I calmed down a bit, I asked myself: “Who was at fault?” 

The answer was: “nobody: my dozing was involuntary, the front car did not violate any traffic regulations, and the back car was unaware of what is taking place in front of me.” I felt that this accident can happen to me again where the outcome can not be predicted. 

The problem was how to prevent dosing when driving. After a lot of thinking, I concluded that the only way to prevent this from happening again is to install a system that slows down the car if the distance to the front car becomes dangerously close. I felt if I have such a system in my car, I can safely sleep and drive,  without the need of singing, screaming, or howling to say awake. I promised myself to buy the car that has this system, if it is produced. 

(To be continued)


 Part - One         Part - Two         Part - Three      Part -Four

Dr. Ibrahim M. Abdel-Motaleb 
Professor of Electrical Engineering 
Northern Illinois University 
DeKalb, IL 60115 

© Ibrahim Abdel-Motaleb 2007




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