These days, the sight of drivers with phones pressed to their ears is all too familiar. Unfortunately, though, the problems posed by such behavior are mounting. Some call it an epidemic, others say it's worse than drunken driving.
One solution to the dilemma would be to outlaw use of distracting technologies in the vehicle. But the question is, which technologies would you outlaw? Phones? Music players? Navigation systems?
In truth, consumers will have none of it. When the National Traffic Safety Board called for the "first-ever nationwide ban on portable electronic devices" earlier this year, the proposal was greeted with nationwide derision.
That's why automakers and suppliers are taking it upon themselves to improve the safety of devices that they're building and putting into vehicles.
Click on the photo below to see 14 examples of how car companies are studying the problem of driver distraction and how they propose to solve it.
The Ford Escape employs Integrated Blind Spot Mirrors to make it easier for users to see "blind spot drivers" while keeping their eyes on the road. (Source: Ford Motor Co.)
Many of the solutions are very distracting themsleves. HUDs are very cool but the driver is still looking at the display, not the car in front. It's likely that an accident will be mitigated but not avoided altogether.
Anecdotally, I spent yesterday media free--as I do during every majour election. No radio, no tv, etc. It was the best driving experience I've had in a long time. Instead of being isolated in my media box and separated from everyone around me, I paid attention. No near misses. I was never cut off. And, I avoided traffic jams and hazards like a ninja.
Paying attention is the best solution. It's interesting how we use technology to solve the problems that our mis-use of technology creates. Ford's approach (Driving Skills for Life) is definitely a good model.
I've got to agree with Nadine about distractions for drivers. It was a lot easier to focus on the road, the other drivers and various external moving objects like kids and dogs--or deer and pedestrians where I live--before all those beeping and flashing devices inhabited the car's interior. I basically don't have any in my car for that reason.
It's obvious, driverless cars is the only way to go. To truly remove the issues with distracted drivers, we must remove the drivers.
But in the meantime, I am liking the head-up display and voice recognition options. The only free HMI in voice in these cases. However, an intuitive interface is needed first. Otherwise, it's just another device to learn all the shortcuts on.
The "innovation" in the first slide has been around for a couple of decades, at least in the stick-on version. I'm surprised it's taken so long to integrate these blind spot mirrors into the side-view mirrors.
Ann, I agree...why do the car manufacturers not have built-in blind spot mirrors built-in to the regular side mirrors? I think that would be a great addition. For myself, analyzing my driving, that's the most time I have my eyes off the road in front of me, when I'm checking my blind spots before changing lanes. I'm very careful to check blind spots, but that's still the most near-misses for me (both city driving and highway). I try to not drive in other's blind spots, but I regularly yield to drivers that did not check their blind spots before changing lanes (I watch them not check blind spots, and frequently no mirror check or blinker).
I've seen many people apply the aftermarket stick-on blind spot mirrors right in the "sweet spot" on the side mirrors, so it blocks their regular mirror view...perhaps doing more harm than good. Engineers can better determine the best position for a blind spot mirror than the regular driver.
RICKZ28, I didn't realize how many problems had been caused by incorrectly locating the stick-on blind spot mirrors. It's not that hard to do, assuming you can orient yourself in space, have reasonable hand-eye coordination, and understand how rear view mirrors work :)
Ann, I'm not sure if poorly placed stick-on blind spot mirrors have been caused a problem. It's just an observation by me. Maybe those who install their own aftermarket blind spot mirrors are better drivers since they've addressed the problem and check blind spots.
I think automotive designers and engineers would be best at understanding the blind spot issue and the correct blind spot mirror placement, rather than drivers with aftermarket products.
As I get older, it's harder to quickly turn my head around while driving to check a blind spot. I'm thinking plenty of older folks have this problem while driving.
RICKZ28, I find it harder to turn my head quickly, too, as a result of aging. But that was never a good idea anyway, since it takes your eyes about as far off the road as they can get (= more than 90 degrees). IAC, that's one reason I installed the stick-ons a few years back. What a world of difference! But I agree with you, the fix should not be up to an aftermarket solution.
To avoid most of the blind spot area, it is possible to adjust the side mirrors so they have hardly overlap with the rear view mirror and the blind spot between side mirror and peripheral view is minimized. It is still recommended to cast a quick glance over the shoulder before actual moving over a lane, though this is mostly to confirm that nobody from 2 lanes over is moving into the same lane, because further away from the vehicle is still a significant blind spot.
Most drivers however adjust side mirrors so that they can look at their own car (not some kind of new worship but because they are concerned when manouvring in tight spots to hit the side of their vehicle) but this results in unnecessary large blind spots.
Then of course there are the yojos who are essentially driving blind, either because they are in too much hurry to even consider others, or too distracted or because they value window tinting more than driving safely at night.
In Europe all trucks and buses are now equipped with blind spot mirrors after too many unnecessary accidents caused enough outcry that it was put in law to equip trucks and buses with this life-saving equipment - after a lot of opposition from the industry claiming that it was not necessary and increased cost. I guess the same ridiculous statement as Ford once made, that a law on mandatory passenger restraints would put them out of business.
I've done that very careful adjustment of the side mirrors to almost eliminate the blind spot. But "almost" isn't good enough, and as another person commented, it's gotten harder to turn my neck around. Plus, taking your eyes off the road is just not a good idea, especially that far. So that's why I got the little stick-on ones. Integrating them seems self-evidently necessary. Then there are the situations they'll never solve, like you and the car in the lane next to you deciding to change lanes--into each other's lane--simultaneously.
Ann, participating in traffic is inherently risky because people make mistakes and heavy objects at high speeds are involved. Still, most accidents are avoidable (as long as at least one participant is in control of his vehicle *and* aware of the danger) when paying attention to what is happening around and able to respond in time. That is one reason that I hate the behavior of "diving" abruptly into a lane that I see some drivers do (even without signaling) and I will always change lane slow enough that others and I can anticipate the situation that someone else also started the process of moving into the same lane at the same time - both have some time to see what is happening and compensate before any vehicles are touching each other - in contrast to the behavior of jerking the vehicle into the new spot. The only drawback is that I run a greater risk of getting the blame in case of an accident that I moved into the lane after it was already occupied (by someone moving faster). I can deal with that because in most cases I can avoid the accident from happeing in the first place.
I agree that blind spots cannot eliminated entirely and that is also why I quoted the European regulation that since a few years requires the blind spot mirrors on the bigger vehicles that were relatively often involved in this type of accident and due to their size and construction, caused the most threat of loss of life.
Legal action on reduction of distraction might be necessary - interesting idea that was suggested on the blog for disabling cell phone from normal calling when in a moving vehicle. Even though handheld calling was outlawed in California, I see a large group of drivers break that law on daily basis, so the technological solution is one way to remove that threat from our roads.
cvandewater, I know what you mean, having driven in all kinds of traffic for 40-plus years, much of dangerous and high-speed and/or rural while crossing creeks or navigating twisty windy steep mountain roads. In the incident I referred to, we were both signalling, but could not see each other's signal because we were almost parallel in the two lanes, and both slowing down at the same rate assuming the other guy would keep going at the previous rate. Point is, no matter what the safety designs are or how much attention is being paid, stuff happens at high speed in 4D.
Ann, your situation is actually a good example of the value of the DSRC-based (dedicated short range communications) intelligent highway. On the intelligent highway, both of your cars would have known the other's intentions, even if the you, the drivers, could not see each other.
Thanks for that input, Chuck, that makes sense. OTOH, I'm not sure the entire infrastructure is worth building to solve primarily that problem. I think better mass transit systems are an excellent alternative.
I agree with Nadine & Ann. What happened to PAY ATTENTION. There is one thing that most people do daily that can hurt/kill them & it's drive a car. It' like eveyone wants to do anything but operate the car.
Couldn't agree more with you. My car doesn't have a radio and I completely agree. Same when I ride my bike (either motorcycle or bicycle).
The other alternative I have is a bit unorthodox, but it would work; make the cars less safe! If you take out the safety devices from the car, people will think twice about being distracted because there is no cushion of safety. Too many people that I know are very flippant about driving because they are not worried of getting into an accident because chances are good that they will not get hurt in an accident and that insurance will pay for a new car. So the consequences are very minimal for bad driving.
Make cars less safe? Hilarious!! I'm lucky enough to be in Generation-X and remember cars that didn't have seatbelts but love the new technology too. One of my best memories growing up is playing with dolls in the back of my mom's Pinto. The big window was awesome!
I don't know if kids today are missing out on the fun but there has to be an in between. Technology needs a balance of personal responsibility on the users part in order to progress.
ugh, I agree: vocal prompts and interfaces are a lot less dangerous and distracting to the driver than visual prompts. OTOH, any interruptions--including hands-free voice conversations--are still distractions and divert the driver's attention.
Good for you, Nadine. I think it was Marshall McLuhan that is credited with saying "the medium is the message" and I would add the medium is really hard to ignore. I suspect there are quite a few drivers out there that view the world as one big "reality TV show" in which they are the star. Unfortunately driving takes place in the real world and it requires constant attention. What's needed is ways to simplify driving, not make it more compllicated.
Chuck, if we are going to allow all these personal devices to be used in cars then the only real solution will lie with technologies, including those you have in the slide show. Two of the most promising to me are haptics and HUD. The layout of insgtruments in cars is not very optimal. A study of aircraft and race cars may be useful in this regard.
They say HUD cuts the time required to shift your eyesight from the road to the instrument panel by about 0.4 seconds, naperlou. If you're going 60 mph, that translates to about 35 feet. So, yes, I agree, HUD has value.
The airplane analogy is certainly appropriate here.
During WWII, the bomber pilot spotted enemy fighters more often than his gunners...something like a 70/30 ration within his field of view. USAAF studies showed that the gunner, who's vision was focused some distance outside the aircraft, could not discern the incoming fighter until it was too late to respond. The pilot, however, was constantly changing his focus from the instruments, quick check of the exterior condition, scan the sky...etc. This changing focus apparently allowed him to detect a fighter's relative motion much sooner than the vision-fixed gunners.
This in itself contradicts what we safety nuts would like to believe. If extrapolated to a modern driver, we would expect the driver who scans his panel regularly and briefly, is essentially more alert and capable than one visually fixed 100 yards ahead of the car.
I suspect that the real difference is that a pilot during wartime realizes that his life is at immediate risk. Auto drivers do not, even when they have been accident victims multiple times......some people make good fighter pilots, others are just smoking holes in the ground.
Pilots are taught to constantly scan for traffic rather than to focus in one direction and to use off-center viewing because of the way the eye perceives objects. Of course the same problem is applicable to automobiles. This link has a rather frightening demonstration of how bad the problem can be. Imagine one of those yellow dots being another vehicle.
I have to disagree with you about haptic feed back being useful here for secondary controls. Haptics in touch screens inform the user they touched the screen, but you still have to look at it to see what specific spot was touched because a touch screen feels the same all over.
My opinion: Secondary controls (audio and climate, lights, etc.) should not require fine muscle control to operate and should be identifiable in peripheral vision and by touch. Neither is possible with a touch screen. Touch screens should be left to control only those things that are normally set and left alone.
I can see modifying my opinion regarding voice control, but I've not had experience with it yet.
The use of touchscreens for simple tasks is an example of how designers have magnified distractions vastly. Had the horror of riding with my father in his base Prius - no bluetooth - while he attempted to set the heat & fan. In the sunlight.
I could not agree more that base controls functions should be able to be used, as one reviewer has put previously, with gloves on. Simple & easy. My opinion is that Ford has historically done a great job of this, & Subaru as well. Saab was an example, even before touchscreens, as to how to add complexity, & what I've seen of GM suggests they collaborated.
Touch screens in the car are a horror. Any controls that go on a screen should be able to be voice activated - maybe only voice activated.
Some of the clips in this slide show only add more flashing lights & distractions. I have no idea how that is construed to be a help, & I would never consider buying a vehicle with them.
Great slideshow, Chuck. I recently rode with my daughter's boyfriend to see my daughter's dance recital. He was driving a 2011 truck (can't remember what make). His entertainment system was run entirely by voice. He could announce a radio station or call for a specific song from a specific band from his digital music collection. He could also make a phone call initiated by voice. At all times he had both hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road. Very impressive, very safe.
Advances in voice recognition are amazing, Rob. Ten years ago, VR systems only understood a few words from a very small menu. Now, they can run radios, entertainment systems, HVAC systems and mobile phones. They've come a long way.
Yes, Chuck, I was so impressed by the hands-free voice recognition, it makes me wonder why so much effort is being put into the systems in your slide show. Although, the systems in your slide show are pretty cool to see.
I use voice recognition Blue Tooth linked speakerphones in my vehicles to provide full control of my cell phone which can remain in my pocket. And I've always had 2-way radios which require the use of a hand held microphone with a push to talk switch. In both instances with a little practice, one can minimize the degree of distraction by cultivating good multi-tasking habits. Problem is, you do have to practice to hone those skills. And recent studies have shown that even a hands free cellular conversation is a distraction from the primary task of driving. The more we multi-task, the less cognitive power is available for each task.
So, the best way to compensate for a reduction in road environment/vehicle control awareness is to add technology that will raise safety margins by adding some self piloting capability to the vehicle itself.
Bdcst, you make a great point that even a hands-free phone conversation can distract the driver. I find it interesting that conversations between the driver and a passenger doesn't seem to distract the driver -- but a hands-free phone call does. I think it's because the passenger is also watching the road and will suspend the conversation during high-attention driving moments. Someone at the other end of the phone call won't be aware of the moments the driver needs undivided attention. That's my theory.
I agree, Chuck, the cognitive distraction is very real. But sometimes it's had to tell what a cognitive distraction is. When radios were first introduced to cars, there was backlash from people who believed the radio would dangerously distract the driver. Yet clearly it doesn't.
Back when rally racing was aired in the USA, I thought it fascinating that rally racers have navigators that could reference a map if need and tell the driver exactly what is coming up while traveling around 100mph on a usually unpaved road. I think a system like this is a better answer than proximity switches and voice recognition devices. The driver has the option of muting the audio, but it comes back on as soon as a button on the dash is pressed unless the stereo is on and it would tell the driver straight-away and turn information using GPS and the car has a device that can notify the driver of objects around the car and notify the driver of there speed and distance from them. All this could use road sign style symbols on the HUD and the stereo speaker system to notify the driver.
How about integrating the sensor information into a system that is already installed but could give natural awareness cues that don't distract your vision - the car stereo. When you are in an open car (convertable or windows open) or on a motorcycle you have the sounds of an adjacent car to warn when one is (or could be ) in a blind spot. How about taking the proximity sensor data (piezo or camera?) and generating a synthetic adjacent car sound into the surround sound system of the car stereo? If done intelligently it could provide the cues needed to maintain spacing without having the windows down and incurring the loss of a/c and other problems.
Put another way, "You can't fix stupid." People who don't understand the risk, can't take steps to avoid the risk. And most people don't understand the risk, including me sometimes. Driverless cars present entirely different problems, but it's entirely possible they are more amenable to a technological solution. Stupidity is resistant to a technological solution.
All of the focus in this discussion is on the driver. I find that an important factor in safe driving is knowing what the other drivers are doing, or are going to do. The ones who do not use their turn signals are the biggest problem I face. My way of dealing with it is to be very defensive, and use my headlight flasher to signal them to go first. That way I can avoid the surprise of them making a left turn in front of me with no warning.
Drivers who do not turn on their headlight when it is getting dark, or it is raining are another problem. At least some cars have automatic lights and wipers. As I have said several times in these blogs, bad car design is also a problem. Light placement and brightness, hard to see instrument panels and displays are other examples. Many times I have faced a car with its turn signals on at night, and I could not tell because they were so close to the bright headlights that they were overpowered. It is important to remember that drivers must deal with other traffic along with their own car.
People designing cars must be made aware of simple physics, such the relative brightness of lights, and making sure the driver can actually see out of the car. or read the speedometer in varying light conditions. Also not putting important display information in a place where it is blocked by the steering wheel is important. The more I read what I have said, the more it sounds like the real answer is driverless cars.
The real problem is that most of the distractions are provided by the items that add the greaates profit for the manufacturer. That is why we have a climate control system that has a digital temperature display, 47 different modes, and 35 different blower speeds. All of that, and then they still use REALLY STUPID icons for a lot of the important things. The low tire pressure warning light icon looks a lot like a flame, and it is certainly flame colored. That was very distracting the first time it came on, early in the morning. I certainly agree about the touch screens, in that it is required to place one's finger in just the right spot, and there are no textural ques as to where that is. The result is spending several seconds to find and activate some function. Having a knob or button for each function is a bit less distracting, if there are not to many of them. But reducing the number reduces the profit.
Then there are the multi-level t5rees that provide an order of magnitude more distraction. They are bad enough on a cell phone, they are really bad on an instrument panel. And much worse on a cell phone in a car in motion.
We need to recall that the primary target of all auto design is to maximize profit so that the chief engineers get larger bonuses. Safety is primarily added because ignoring it hurts the bottom line, if it is ignored a bit to much, and if they are unlucky. So it is not really likely that automakers will voluntarily givve up any of those high profit distractions. But possibly, if the traffic safety people ignore the screams, it may be that some of the distractions can be eliminated.
These are all really interesting and it's good that engineers are looking to solve the distraction problem. But just to play devil's advocate--don't you think sometimes that more technology in cars that is meant to fix this problem would actually distract people more? I know personally that when I'm in a car with sat/nav or a visual screen mapping my location, sometimes I pay more attention to that than the road! I'm sure research is taking all of this into account, but just food for thought.
What we have here, Liz, is technology that's meant to fix a problem that technology caused in the first place. The obvious solution is not to let a lot of this stuff into the car in the first place. Unfortunately, that's never going to happen.
Who is responsible for the terrible controls engineering in vehicles? Why do all the car companies seem to walk lock step with poor design practices?
At one time, you could distinguish the car's controls by their very distinctive feel and location - no need to look. These days you have a maze of identical buttons many in long rows that take your eyes off the road while you search out the button you want. The same applies to all the buttons on the steering wheel - you have to look down to find the right button. How hard would it be to to give distinct contours to the buttons and their locations? Steering wheel stalks seem to be designed to activate your wipers when you want to turn and switch to high beam when you want to turn on your wipers. The designs demand that you take your eyes off the road.
Perhaps the worse example of irresponsible design is the Prius and Mini, among others that have their speedometer in the middle of the dash. Bodyshops report that the most common collision point on these vehicles is the front left corner. Every other manufacturer has followed this design blunder by locating the main graphics display well away from the driver's line of sight down the road. I've responded by mounting a stand alone GPS low on the dash right in my line of sight after many frightening surprises after glancing at the factory GPS down and well off to the right. This modification has certainly reduced my stress level when driving in unfamiliar territory.
It's too late for the greatest safety hazard of all, the cellphone. The horse left the barn years ago. Daily I come across drivers slowing right down when they're on the phone and then speeding off when they get off - and then repeating. I've even seen a driver stop in the middle of an intersection while in the middle of a conversation, oblivious to the traffic and another drive right through a red light.
Not only that, Elizabeth - people become desensitized to whatever is serving to direct their attention. Those LED lights will work the first few times to redirect a person's attention - until they get used to them. As Charles said - the technology to fix technology doesn't work well...it's a losing proposition. If everyone lost a family member in a car accident due to someone texting or looking at their "Smart" phone (not very smart if you ask me since it causes such irresponsible behavior) then I think that ban on technology devices would pass.
The more technological advances become available, the more problems stemming from the use of that technology becomes evident. Just look at the abuses that occur in cyberspace because it is not regulated. I think Star Trek had the right of it - we need a Prime Directive to regulate human behavior since we can't seem to do it ourselves...what is it that the Terminator said about humanity - "It is in your nature to destroy yourselves." Okay maybe I am being a bit overdramatic but I think it's a valid point...if left to our own devices we want instant gratification regardless of the safety issues that may be involved. We want to hear our radio station right now! even if we are driving in traffic and have to glance down to see the right preselect button to push - or we MUST read that text because it can't wait 5 minutes...the world might end...
I was amazed by how many of these solutions, and the subsequent discussion, confused "eyes on the road" with "mind on the road". They take the need to look away from the road away, or remind you to look back. Instead they distract you with your eyes in place. Heads up displays are a perfect example of this. If you have 20 pieces of information popping at you, it hardly matters whether it is on your dashboard or on your windshield.
Right approach, reduce interaction, reduce interruption. For example, a reminder to get your oil changed should only appear when the vehicle is stopped. Calendar reminders and other non-critical items should not even be available while the engine is on.
To that end, voice command is a good thing. However, audio cues and flashing lights should be limited to critical matters. Nothing should grab your attention unless it is critical (e.g. you are about to run out of gas).
We don't hold drivers responsible for those they kill or enforce distraction laws so people, like my brother, are just going to continue to get killed. Law enfocement is focused on catching speeders proably because it's easier to prove and more fun. These days, when I drive, I keep in mind that the majority of the drivers are enemies, they have no clue what they are doing and really don't care who they kill. I drive the speed limit, keep my distance and stay alert. It's sort of like driving in Vietnam during the war but without the land mines.
I am years developing & manufacturing car's security and safety systems. Teenager and proffesional drivers my aim market. I have new concept for driver diversion. I see all 14 photos , its expancive and not so efficient systems. Maybe its more promotion purpose than the be helpfull realy. I have few out of box concepts and products line for new generation cars. like most of innovations that no in the market I offer to car manufacturers in Turkey.
In order to develop those products needed only car's manufacturers R&D department. I don't have the right connections to realise and also create new jobs oprtunities for High-Tech engineers in USA and also in Canada. Its direct benefit, the next benefit its safety for next generation for drivers on road
Excellent post Charles. During my time in the Air Force, I worked with a Major who flew F-4s during Viet Nam. One of the comments he made relative to that fighter-- a great job was done with the instrument layout. Apparently some aircraft have less than desirable instrument placement. This was before "heads-up" displays became available. High speed movements necessitate quick looks at instrumentation and apparently the F-4 allowed that to happen without significant errors when time was precious. I'm one of those people who cannot talk on a cell phone and drive at the same time. You may as well get me off the road when the phone rings or I'm a danger to just about everybody within 100 miles. I think there are three areas that could benefit greatly from changes in the automotive industry. These are as follows: 1.) Hands-free cell phones, 2.) Heads-up displays and 3.) Considerable work to maximize and make more efficient instrument layouts for the driver. Of course we are talking about new cars. I'm certainly gratified to know the industry is considering removal of distractions when and if at all possible.
The really simple solution to vehicular distractions is to remove them. Get rid of the 49 buttons on the entertainment system, 14 selectors on the HVAC controls, and all 985 other accessory things. Of coursethat will never happen because all of those items are profit items, and profit is held to be FAR mor important than safety. Not publicly, but really.
And why do all of the instrument panels look the same, and have similar controls mounted in the center? It started because it is cheaper to build that way, and it continues because none of the car makers management has the courage to head off in a different direction. The marketing wonks have decided that everything in the center is what people will be allowed to want, and since there is no choice, they buy it, "which proves it was the right choice". A few guages in front of the driver, with headlight switch and wiper switch to the left of the steering wheel, and all of the unimportant stuff in the middle, like heater, AC, and radio. The main concept has been that people really want the stuff, because that is the answer that marketing has been giving for a lot of years. And so now the competition is on to see who can make the most profit from the most distractions. We were possibly better off whenm the emphasis was on horsepower.
Yes! We should have a national registry of all phone owners. Make them get a permit to own a car and a phone at the same time. We would have to close that phone show loop hole as well. Every time they get into a car they have to secure their phones with an approved locking device. Oh and make sure to ban any phone that is scary looking. Then we could maybe have police do random inspections to make sure that all phones in vehicles are secure!
Afterall, why insist on people taking responsibility for their own actions, blame the devices and the manufaturers.
By the way, how does a passenger make a call if we follow your advice?
There are two insurmountable challenges to totally disabling the cell phone in a moving vehicle, the first one being that it is quite safe for any passenger to make calls, and get calls, and the second reason is that the cell phone companies make so much money from it that they can out-lobby any opponents. Cell phones are just one more distraction,and while they are a serious problem, it allgoes along with a general condition of many peoplesimply being unwilling and unable to focus attention for more than a few seconds.
Tesla Motors plans to roll out a “compelling, affordable electric car” that will sell for about half the price of its high-profile Model S by the end of 2016, company chairman Elon Musk said last week.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.