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 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 agree that stupid drivers doing things that distract them from driving is a problem. But why put the temptation in front of them to begin with? That makes no sense and I think it's irresponsible to begin with. If I have an eating problem, then bringing home ice cream that will call to me from the fridge is not too bright. But did I put the ice cream there or did someone else? I assume that all this distracting stuff is in the form of options, right?
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 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 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?
Rob, we have the same law here in the Chicago area. The problem, as pointed out by Alex, is that virtually no one pays attention to the law. Every time I drive my car I see people holding phones to their ears, and many can be easily picked out by viewing their erratic driving patterns. One simple law could clear it up: Lower the boom on anyone caught driving with phone in hand. This has worked (somewhat) in the area of drunk driving. Drinkers increasingly know that driving drunk will result in the loss of their driver's license and maybe a night or two in jail. The question is whether we really believe that driver distraction is an issue, and whether we're really willing take away driver's license as a result of this behavior. Since many of us have probably held a phone to our ears at one time or another while driving, I suspect we'd sympathize with the distracted drivers at prosecution time.
It took MADD to drive home the importance of clamping down on drunken driving. One group is trying to do that for cell phone use, FocusDriven. The group is trying to be the MADD of cell phone driving. They may have some statistical ummph now with the National Safety Council announcing last week that one quarter of all accidents are now caused by cell phone use.
I don't like to take a hard line stance, but occasionally I find myself forced into it. Here in America we have a history of writing "symbolic" laws. The penalty is often less than the benefit of breaking it. The result is that people will take the chance and break the law, because they still come out ahead.
The law makes a statement, but it doesn't make a big change.
Elementary game theory says that to deter an action, the perceived risk of loss must be greater than the perceived benefit. I have heard that Germany implements this. They don't have people checking every ticket in their subways, in fact they have very few ticket inspectors. In spite of this nearly everyone buys a ticket. Why? Because the penalty for getting caught is 1000 times the ticket price.
There are many answers to smart phone use while driving. None are easy to implement. Few will catch most use. If we want to protect people from distracted drivers, we have to make the penalty stiff enough that people will pick up their phone in fear of getting caught. That fear has to be greater than the social pressure they feel demanding them to answer the phone, or make the call. If it isn't, they will use the phone.
The problem with trying education is that the people doing it are in denial. Education doesn't change that. Everyone has seen the clip of that teen girl driving off a small cliff while talking on her phone. It hasn't changed anything
The only other way to deal with it, is to mandate the disabling of the phones in the car. I can't think of a way to do this that wouldn't have side effects worse than the problem.
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".
I don't think we can address this issue by legislating a solution that can't be enforced.
Are we going to ban cell phones from being in cars? I don't think so.
Education is a key part of any real solution to these problems.
Cigarettes - juggling a fire while driving (talk about temptation!, we are dealing with addiction on this one), blowing your nose ( lost a young woman in our community , because she reached for a tissue at the wrong moment), a child crying or wiggling out of their seat.... the list is very long..and often doesn't involve what would normally be called a "temptation".
At least part of the solution involves training the driver to ask:
-"is this distraction worth risking a life?"...when presented with a distraction
- and recognizing what is a distraction (many don't know or are in denial of it ).
I think we CAN legislate a solution, if the legislation is smartly written. The mandate should not be that calls can't be made, but that hands-free capability (bluetooth) must be used. This is in fact what the law is in New York, and the commenter is correct in stating that it's widely ignored. So the next step is to mandate that cars come with built-in bluetooth. This might seem onerous, until you consider that new cars are now basically rolling electronics platforms with engines and transmissions thrown in as an afterthought. The final step involves disabling in-vehicle calls unless the in-car bluetooth is used. This is a much tougher (technological and social) nut to crack. I don't have an answer here, but I think it should be pursued. Cars don't kill people; drivers holding cellphones to their heads with their hands, not paying attention to the road, do.
So throw em in jail if they have a cell phone to their head? (laws similar to drinking and driving)
If they have Bluetooth.. the problems of distraction will be solved?
The details of the article indicated that holding a cellphone to the head and talking wasn't any more distracting than listening to the radio... Yes, there was some level of distraction but not much. Even talking to a passenger is a distraction from driving (modest).
The cell phone was a significant distraction when the driver:
- fumbling to answer the cell phone (yes, bluetooth would help here)
- dialing a number while driving (yes, voice dialing would help here)
- the driver's eyes were removed from the road (cell to head - was not a significant problem from the report's perspective). I often ask my wife to answer the cell phone while I am driving, then she puts it to my head so I can talk. My eyes never left the road during any of this.
The point being made..... texting was a big problem because it removed eyes from the road.
Bluetooth is a help and seeing a cell phone being held to the driver's head indicates a modest level of distraction. But addressing these items did not address the much BIGGER problem of texting while driving... right up there with trying to read a book while driving. You would think it was an obviously bad idea, but people do it.
Are we going to outlaw books in cars? or make them easier to read while driving? These are not solutions.
I'm sorry for stating my point so poorly. My point isn't that we should throw people in jail for using a cell phone while driving. My point is that we could stop it in a heartbeat if we really thought that this was a truly a widespread, life-threatening problem, as drunk driving is (in Chicago, I've frequently heard people say that distracted driving is as dangerous as drunk driving). But would so many of us be doing it if we all thought it was that bad? And if it's not as bad as drunk driving, how bad is it?
I would think that distracted driving--whether because you're drunk or because you're texting--is distracted driving. If it causes accidents, then the reasons for it are essentially on the same level of danger-causing behaviors. From a slightly different angle, one could argue that driving drunk gets you busted whether or not you do something stupid while driving drunk. Does that make people think it's not all that bad? Clearly yes, since some people continue to do so. I think driving while talking or texting on a cell phone should have the same penalty. Driving either drunk or talking/texting are equally dangerous behaviors when behind the wheel of a deadly weapon. So I think it's just as irresponsible to put a cell phone, etc. in the car as it would be to put a bottle of alcohol in the car, or the ice cream in the fridge (from my earlier comment's metaphor): it's presence there implies that's it's not all that bad, when in fact it *is* all that bad.
I had a personal experience with this in 2004, when a woman reaching for her cellphone plowed into the rear end of my parked car from which my then very young son had exited less than 90 seconds earlier. I shudder to think what might have happened had the timing been different. So I have a real bug up my you know what about idiots who make non-hands-free calls when driving. I would have autos emit some kind of signal (say, a digital code that's rf modulated in the band that the cellphones use, which the phones would have to recognize and they'd only work via bluetooth. An expensive way to force hands-free compliance, but sounds feasible to me.
Driving while texting should have a significant penalty associated with it. Likewise for driving while holding a cell phone. Where the situation grows more complex is in the case of complicated electronic gadgets, some of which are built into our cars. What should be done with the driver who slams into a parked car while changing songs through the center console display? After all, we're allowing -- maybe even encouraging -- auto companies to market this stuff.
Good points, Chuck. With one quarter of all accidents caused by phone use in the car (National Safety Council), that's significant. I think we need a breakdown as to what is causing the accidents. Hands free calls, handheld phone calls, texting? My guess is that even hands free conversations are distracting.
In talking the researchers for this article and others, Rob, I've been struck by the fact that these electronics car products are rolling out faster than researchers can study them. By the time we really understand the effects of today's stuff, we'll have one or two more generations of electronic gadgetry on the road.
You're right, Chuck. It's hard to keep up with the new electronics and their demands on the driver. It's certainly a concern. I often wonder if I'm too distracted when I take a CD out of its case and put it in the player -- and put the last CD back in its case. If I had seven other electronic toys to play with, I might not be safe on the road.
Rob: Some of the new dashboard systems that are coming out are far more distracting than your CD case. Cadillac recently told me that the average center console display today has 17 buttons on it. And that number will undoubtedly go up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The problem with distracted driving does compile with other electronic devices in your car. While the use of GPS is amazing. It is unnerving as a passenger in a car to have the driver decide it is time to program in a destination address while going 65 MPH down the highway. Hands free operation would be great in this situation.
The problem is that the automotive marketing wonks all are striving to have "the next big thing" be the one that they introduce. The problem is that those in the federal government have not been able to decide that these distractions make a vehicle unsafe. Instead we get stability systems as mandatory when the only folks that need them are beginning drivers.
JUst look at the huge variety of seatbelt buckles that we have hyad over the years. While most of them worked, they were all different. Anybody smarted than a dead monkey should have decided that there was only one good design, which looks a whoole lot like the ones in airliners. They all work the same way, and can be opened even when wearing thick mittens or gloves, with the left hand or with the right hand. This may seem a bit off-topic, but it demonstrates a chronic lack of good judgement. That is the point that I was making.
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)
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