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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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