Pay attention! Your car is watching you

The next wave of technology designed to keep drivers from getting distracted or dozing off could soon be watching you behind the wheel.

Eye-monitoring systems are quickly becoming a focus for automakers and suppliers working on advanced driver assistance systems, known as ADAS.

"If your eyes are looking away from the road, the vehicle will understand that you are paying attention to something else," said Nick Langdale-Smith, a vice president at Seeing Machines.

Seeing Machines is a technology company that's working with a number of automakers on an eye-monitoring system it aims to have in new vehicles within the next couple of years.

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Here's how it works.

A small camera mounted in the instrument panel behind the steering wheel tracks the eye's movements as well as the driver's blinking patterns.

If the driver looks away to text, read an email or focus on something other than the road, the camera will notice. The eye-monitoring system will then work with the vehicle's ADAS to warn the driver to pay attention.

"The vehicle has an understanding of whether I'm paying attention or not," Langdale-Smith said. "When I'm coming up to a stoplight, have I seen the vehicles in front of me?"

Nicolas Loran | Photodisc | Getty Images

Eye-monitoring systems have become a focus as the auto industry invests heavily in next-generation driver-assist technology, including autopilot driving systems.

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One concern about the eventual rollout of these systems is ensuring that drivers stay engaged with behind the wheel—even when they aren't holding onto it.

"We still need the driver ... to really be inside the loop and paying attention to what's happening on the road," said Jeremy Carlson, a senior analyst at IHS Automotive who specializes in ADAS.

In theory, systems like those being developed by Seeing Machines will help curtail distracted driving, which accounted for 3,328 deaths in 2012, according to government data.

Toyota has already developed a system that warns drivers who are not looking ahead if their vehicle may hit something.

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Ben Lieberman, who lost his 17-year-old son Evan in an accident caused by distracted driving, is cautiously optimistic. Still, the advocate for eliminating texting and driving warned that technology alone will not stop people from engaging in the behavior.

"Technology can help push people not to text and drive, but it won't end until people realize it's up to them not to engage in distracted driving," he said.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.