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."
To keep up with our EV coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Chevy Volt across America to interview engineers.
This story and study completely hits the nail on the head in terms of defining what the real problem is when it comes to the increased use of electronics in cars. Talking we can do--we do it any way whether it's family chat time on a long road trip or just banter during the morning commute. It's all that manual fiddling with buttons and gadgets on your device or your console to check emails, squeak off a quick text to your kid or your boss or finding quick directions on the GPS that is the distraction and the danger.
The real engineering challenge is for gadget companies and the auto maker to build these integrated and seamless consoles and user interaction paradigms so drivers can simply talk to do all this communication without taking their hands off the wheel. Until that's accomplished and done so elegantly, driver distraction and safety remains a huge concern.
I call into question the idea that there is no statistical difference between someone driving without talking on the phone, and someone driving and talking on the phone. A driver should be concentrating on the road. If someone talking on a phone or to a passenger, part, or, in the case of most people, most of the brain is engaged in the conversation, then there's going to be a delay between the 'Oh, crap!' and the foot hitting the brake. If there's no statistical difference (this really strikes me as weasel words), then the overall driving ability must really suck. It pretty much says that most drivers are distracted ALL the time and another distraction really doesn't matter.
I was in a line of cars backed up at a traffic light, with the line edging slowly every cycle of the light. Suddenly the car in front of be hit the car in front of him. The driver got out of the car, screaming and yelling at the driver in front of him, still holding his cellphone to his ear. No statistical difference? I don't think so. Distracted? Obviously.
I would disagree, Beth. While there is no question that completely diverting attention to anything other than driving, especially a phone that requires a large change of focus to see, is a very real potential cause of accidents, it would not seem to be the major cause. The concentration required to carry on a full-duplex conversation is quite a bit. People do get quite seriously involved in conversations, we know this is true. The difference is that they talk for many tens of minutes, while the visual concentration on a phone is mostly just a few seconds.
The reason that I make this point is that the results seem to be aimed at vindicating the conversation as the main culprit, and distracting attention from the primary cause of drivers inattention. I am suggesting that this is done as an effort to avoid the more extreme regulation prohibiting cell phone use while driving. The fact is that a whole lot of drivers are constantly distracted to some degree by their phone use, and that the phone use while driving is a large part of the providers income. And we all know that money talks, and mostly, money gets what money wants.
So while concentration on use of the smart phone's features is certainly a hazardous distraction, it is not the only serious distraction.
After all, 80% of all traffic accidents are caused by driver inattention, at least that was the statistic in the 1970s era. I doubt that the percentage has decreased.
From my own experience I can say that for some reason holding the phone to my ear to talk does cause distraction, but using the hands free earpiece reduces it to the same as talking to a passenger in the car. In fact perhaps even less then a passenger in the car as I am sometimes temped to look at the passenger. I think the reason that talking on the phone did not show a major difference is that we are practiced at talking and doing one other task from day one of our lives, and in fact if I was to think about nothing but driving while driving I would get so bored and then sleepy that I would fall asleep behind the wheel. I would suspect that almost every person thinks and/or talks about things other than driving when they are driving without it adversely affecting their driving. I know I do a lot of my design work while driving.
I also note, William that your statistical data is from a time before cell phone use was a problem. So even if we outlaw cell phone from the US in total it is clear that people will still be driving distracted. The problem is not the thing they are distracted with, but the lack of wisdom of the driver who thinks they can drive while distracted. The last time I was hit was a person too busy putting on her makeup to see that the light she was coming to was red.
I personally favor the hands free law and no texting law of California. I do wish they would enforce it more.
I agree with Beth, that it's good to see these concerns addressed. It boggles the mind that, after highly publicized accidents and then legislation regarding texting while driving, any company would sell and promote devices in cars that require the driver to not only take their eyes off the road but also require taking their hands off the wheel.
What ever happened to all that voice recognition tech that was being developed a few years back?
Ann, as I was looking at new cars a couple months ago, I noted that many had hands free cell phone options biult into them, the trick is getting people to use them. As to voice comand, my new phone and my previous 10 year old phone had it, again the trick is getting people to us it. Now I will admit, I do not have a smart phone.
I have one of these vehicles with voice command. It's a lot like talking to one of those "Say 1 or Associate" to speak with an employee type phone systems. Then you end up in a completely different section talking about warranty returns or accessory purchases.
The sheer numbers of new and innovative electronics simply scares me to, well, very defensive driving. I just received a new Satellite radio receiver. It comes with a remote control that has 30 more buttons than the actual receiver. Back when I was a kid, they warned us about changing radio stations because of its distraction factor.
Now, we have cell phones, head phones, personal music players, DVD viewers, GPS systems, SAT Radio, AUX inputs, social media, Internet access and who knows how many alarms and warnings to keep us astoundingly distracted. Add the kids fighting in the back seat, your spouse telling you how or where to drive and trying to keep your sanity through all of this by reciting some Tibetan mantra.
I truly question that statement. In the last three months, I have narrowly avoided accidents with persons driving while talking on cell phones. Three of those five drivers were completely oblivious to the accidents they had just missed having. For sheer driving distraction, the creativity of drivers amazes me. I have seen drivers applying makeup, inserting contact lenses, eating Big Macs, reading maps and paperback books, texting, looking for items that they've dropped, etc., etc., etc. I sometimes feel that we need to add some chlorine to the gene pool.
Chuck, this story actually supports the law here in Albuquerque that bans cell phone use in cars with the exception of hands-free devices. It makes perfect sense that the risk rises when the driver's eyes are off the road. As automakers are more electronics to the inside of the vehicle, are they also adding hands-free devices?
1) acceptable degrees of distraction. The report does indicate ANY cell phone activity is distracting.. but only because the extreme level of distraction texting caused, they recommended the practice to be outlawed.
Most people would except this conclusion. But I have no knowledge of exactly how this would be enforced. And this is a critical aspect of enacting any law.
2) Story told to me (during traffic survival class in the 70s).
Police found a car wreaked (extreme) along side the road .. the driver was alive. They couldn't determine the cause of the accident. The road was straight for miles. The weather was pleasant. The driver wasn't drunk. They wasn't another car on the road.
They noticed a coat hanger all tangled up in the steering wheel, and commented on how strange and extreme the wreak was - that it could result in a coat hanger tangled up in the steering wheel.
The driver said: " oh , no. That wasn't the result of the accident! I normally keep the wire in the steering wheel to prop up my book".
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If you’re an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, “Analog Design for the Digital World,” running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.