Imagine being able to nod off behind the wheel when driving fatigue sets in. As your eyelids droop and your head starts getting heavy, the car takes over, allowing you to drift off to sleep instead of drifting off the road and getting into a car accident.

Auto manufacturing technology hasn't quite gotten there yet, but industry leaders are trying to lessen the risks of drowsy driving by putting more safeguards into new cars. The Ford Motor Company announced last month that it's offering "lane-keeping technology" as an option for two of its 2013 models. It relies on a camera mounted to the rear-view mirror. When the system is on and the vehicle is traveling more than 40 mph, it uses the road's lane markings to detect veering toward one edge or the other. If the turn signal is off, the system assumes the veering is unintentional and will send a vibration to the steering wheel as a warning. If the driver doesn't respond by turning the wheel, the software is designed to engage the power steering and turn the car toward the center by itself.

But as with most new technology, there are some kinks to work out. The system doesn't work as well if the lane markers can't be detected, such as on curves in the road, in heavy rain or snow or while driving into direct sunlight. Not surprisingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to give the system its approval. But other automakers have already introduced similar technology, which is more prevalent in Europe.

Ford is also introducing a "Driver Alert System" that gives off warnings when it detects patterns associated with drowsy driving, such as weaving within lane boundaries. The first warning prompts a soft chime sound with a dashboard message that says "Rest suggested." The second warning has a louder chime and a message of "Rest now."

But will this type of technology make us safer, less accident-prone drivers? Or will it cause us to rely too heavily on our vehicles and encourage irresponsible habits, such as texting and driving? Let's hope drivers don't find out the hard way: through accidents in cars that still aren't as smart as we are.

Source: New York Times, "Trying to Nudge Drowsy Drivers," Randall Stross, Jan. 21, 2012