That's why VTTI and others have disagreed with the National Transportation Safety Board's recent call for an outright ban on cellphone use by drivers. The real problem, they say, isn't talking, it's glancing away from the road.
"Talking on a cellphone and talking to passengers does not increase risk," Klauer says. "But if a driver looks away from the road for two seconds during a six-second period, even if the two seconds aren't consecutive, the risk doubles."
By extension, the issue of visual distraction almost certainly applies to a variety of other electronics now migrating into the vehicle. GPS systems, Internet services, iPods, and complicated center consoles all call for visual contact. The statistical effect is as yet unknown, however, since they're appearing in the vehicle faster than researchers can study them.
For now, though, researchers say they are more concerned about the growing tide of smartphone use. That, they say, is an immediate and very large source of risk.
"We know that people are talking less in their daily communication patterns, but they are typing more text messages and reading more emails," McGehee told us. "That's where the major distraction is."
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i would strongly disagree with the findings. Obviously dialling, texting, operating GPS units, or "lighting up a fag", are all extremely dangerous (and foolhardy) actions when you are supposed to be concentrating on your driving. But I have followed plenty of drivers who are merely carrying on a conversation with a phone to their ear,* and their driving is extremely erratic: speed variations, and "drifting" from one side of their lane to the other, seem to be the most common faults.
It beggars belief that our state of Victoria, (in Australia), has outlawed the use of hand-held phones in vehicles, yet it is ok to have GPS units**, car stereos with handheld remote controls, DVD players etc. (and cigarette lighters)
I'm not sure of the scientific reason, but there appears to be some sort of "proximity effect" when there are passengers in the car. They seem NOT to pose a major distraction for the driver.***
Having taken lessons in light aircraft, I found it quite comfortable talking to the Instructor while controlling the aircraft, and had no difficulty maintaining full concentration. It was a different matter when I had to make Radio calls. Maintaining control while trying to absorb instructions from a dis-embodied voice, and relaying information back to ground controllers required a much higher level of concentration.
If it were up to me, all electronic goods apart from the car stereo would be illegal in motor vehicles.
* Notwithstanding the fact that it is illegal !
** GPS units are merely contributing to the "Dumbing Down" of the population, are no substitute for the ability to "navigate", and have caused tragic deaths because they aren't always correct !
*** This does not apply to many ethnic groups (and individuals) who have the dangerous habit of turning to face their passengers to carry on their conversations, both orally and with hand gestures. (this is not racist comment, merely an observation, and I assume it has more to do with cultural influences than anything else)
Yes, kids are a major distraction, especially when you have a little one crying or older ones fighting. And you're right, that never gets mentioned. That's probably because it's an organic distraction and thus it can't be controlled in the same way that the use of cellphones and be restricted legally.
Whenever distractions are discussed, kids are seldom mentioned. Truth be told, though, kids are probably the biggest possible distraction. Having them buckled into car seats definitely helps, but I always wonder how drivers managed in the 1950s, when kids weren't buckled and families were bigger. Can you imagine driving a car with six unbuckled kids in it? I'd consider jumping out the window.
So consoles may be the new texting. I would think it is certainly worth looking into. Glad to hear that all aspects of driver distraction are included. Hope they include my favorite. Coming back from the store, I refilled a kid's tippy cup from a half gallon of milk while driving. I got pulled over for swerving. The cop let me off with the warning that I need to pull off the road when I refill the tippy cups.
I believe we will hear more about this in the next year or so. The University of Iowa has a massive $60 million driving simulator in which they plan to test all kinds of driving distraction issues. I hope center consoles will be among their studies.
That makes the dash electronics would become a problem if drivers are messing with them while driving. I haven't heard much about this distraction. All of the focus seems to be on texting and talking on cellphones. Any distraction could be dangerous.
Rob: There's a breed of center consoles that has been evolving over the last few years that do a few things that dashboards generally didn't do seven or eight years ago. These new systems allow users to connect to devices that are brought in from outside (smartphones, iPods, GPS) and use them through the center console. They aren't new per se, but the distraction problem associated with them is growing more noticeable.
Even worse, Charles, is the fact that things are getting buried 2 or three levels deep. I'm not talking about some setup type functions either. These are things that used to be buttons on the dashboard.
There's good news and bad news regarding the sub-systems of today's late-model vehicles. The good news is that new engines and transmissions are more trouble-free than in the past. The bad news is that the infotainment and DVD players are still prone to be "buggy."
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