Captain Hybrid
Slideshow: Solving the Driver Distraction Dilemma

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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.)
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.)

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Re: driver distraction
tekochip   11/9/2012 9:42:46 AM
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.

Elizabeth M
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devil's advocate
Elizabeth M   11/9/2012 4:59:59 AM
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.

William K.
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Driver distractions, the dilemma
William K.   11/8/2012 8:50:24 PM
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.

Charles Murray
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Re: Voice activated, hands free
Charles Murray   11/8/2012 6:48:13 PM
Researchers put distractions in two types of categories, Rob. There are visual distractions and cognitive distractions. And, as you point out, the danger from cognitive distractions is very real.  

Tom Drechsler
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Re: technology needed
Tom Drechsler   11/8/2012 6:38:29 PM
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.

User Rank
Re: driver distraction
oldbikefixr   11/8/2012 6:27:43 PM
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.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: solutions?
Ann R. Thryft   11/8/2012 3:39:37 PM
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.

The Designist
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This is just a distraction
The Designist   11/8/2012 3:30:37 PM
The argument will be: "Judge I was unaware of falling asleep.  The car manufacturer is liable in that I did not see the coffee mug light up when my eyes closed."

But I digress, none of this will matter as cars will become autonomous.  Until cars are called autoautomobiles, the distraction from electonics will remain a distraction.



User Rank
Other ideas for awareness cues
CorbenAceFan   11/8/2012 3:17:08 PM
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.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Re: Voice activated, hands free
Rob Spiegel   11/8/2012 3:13:15 PM
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.

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