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This paper describes a method for designing an intelligent system to improve driver safety. A prototype of the system, which was designed by following this method, is presented. Driver physiological data acquired from sensors on the steering wheel are correlated, using statistical multivariate analysis, to the driver's vigilance level, which was evaluated using polysomnography. A driving simulation was conducted with a mechanical platform, whose data were also acquired and studied the same way. The parameters chosen for the evaluation of driver vigilance are used for the first time in such a system. Data are analyzed offline to set up a real-time driver vigilance controller. The data analysis results in one vigilance-level index for the current driver and situation.