Category Archive: Distracted Driving

Eclipse 2017

Eclipse 2017 – Avoid the Roads!

Next week, on August 21, 2017, the United States will be the only land mass in the world where a total solar eclipse can be seen. The Eclipse will come ashore on the coast of Oregon at 10:15 AM, Pacific Daylight Time and will cross over the South Carolina coast near Charleston at approximately 2:49 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.

Portions of 12 states between Oregon and South Carolina will experience totality (total darkness). As it passes over those 12 states, it will cross every major north-south interstate highway and many of the east-west interstates in the US. The totality will pass over the following cities;

  • Lincoln, NE
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Nashville, TN
  • Greenville, SC
  • Columbia, SC
  • Charleston, SC

The totality will just skirt the edge of St. Louis, MO.

This event isn’t the end of the Earth nor does it have any dreaded meaning unless you happen to be among the millions of people who will be out driving during the period of totality. Driving during the totality should be no big deal; it’s just like driving at night.  However, the roads in the area of totality are going to be packed and the totality is going to be a huge distraction as many drivers take their eyes off the road to try to view the sun.

During totality, the sun will be totally blotted out for up to two-and a half minutes and only the sun’s atmosphere (corona) will be visible. For many it will be a once in a lifetime sight. It’s not a sight you want to try to view while driving at highway speeds.

If you’re going to be on the road during the event, it’s best that you pull off the road and stop before totality arrives. It will be best to get out of your vehicle to experience what, for most of us, will be our only chance to witness a total eclipse.

Don’t just pull off the road; exit the road completely. If you’re on an interstate or limited access highway, exit the highway before totality. If you’re on a city street, pull into a parking lot. Pulling off on the shoulder will be too dangerous because there will be so many distracted drivers, you can easily be hit.

Remember not to look at the sun until it goes completely dark. Looking at even a sliver of the sun can burn your retina and possibly blind you for life. The only safe way to look at the sun is through official eclipse glasses.

To see what time the area of totality will pass over your location, go to the eclipse map  and click on your location. All times on the map are in UTC or Greenwich mean time which is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.

Drive safe and enjoy the view!

Halloween safety tips

Holiday Driving: Halloween Safety Tips

The chill is in the air, orange is the dominant color and kids are beginning to think of their plans for Halloween. Before you go out shopping for costumes and buying bags of candy this year, consider a few safety tips and spend a few minutes planning for the night ahead.

  • Identify what type of celebrations will be taking place and where they will be located. Not only will it help determine your plans, it will help you be an aware driver as you travel on the roadways. If you’re attending a party, plan for a designated driver or commit to not drinking. Even small amounts of alcohol can impair your judgment and driving. Driving under the influence can kill or cause trauma, be expensive and embarrassing.
  • When costume planning, make sure that all costumes fit appropriately and won’t restrict movement or visibility, either as a pedestrian or behind the wheel. Ensure foot wear is sturdy. Tripping, falling, difficulty steering or braking can be dangerous!
  • Add reflective tape to costumes and replace flash light batteries to ensure you will be visible, whether escorting trick or treaters or attending an event yourself. Make sure that any children you’re with have flashlights, glow stick, bright candy bags, and reflective tape on costumes as well. Clear up any yard obstructions, water hoses, and overgrown vegetation to make it easier to see and maneuver for both pedestrians and vehicles.
  • Know your planned route, to avoid the unexpected. Plan to travel in well lighted areas. If walking, use sidewalks and crosswalks. If driving, avoid areas of heavy pedestrian traffic and park in areas with the greatest visibility. Select alternate routes that will provide the least amount of risk and the most amount of safety. Arrange to give yourself extra time to and from your destination.
  • Know what night of the week Halloween falls on. If Halloween is on a weekend, expect the festivities to begin early in the day and prepare to be a defensive driver. If it is on a weeknight, children will be starting their rounds before the evening rush hour is over. Be especially watchful and, if you can, avoid driving on Halloween altogether.
  • Be alert for kids playing in costumes during the day, darting from house to house or in between parked cars. Pay special attention beginning at 4:30pm for the younger treat seekers. Turn on your head lights to make your vehicle more visible. Dusk is the most dangerous time of day because lights and shadows can fool you so drivers need to be especially vigilant.
  • Reduce distractions. Make sure your cell phone is on silent, your radio volume is low and your passengers are aware to minimize distractions and assist with being alert to the surrounding environment.
  • Be extra cautious as you pull into and leave driveways, parking lots and alleys. Watch for children who may dart out between cars, at roadways, medians and on curves. Be sure to check your blind spots thoroughly and maintain a search and scan of the driving environment every few seconds.
  • Travel well below the posted speed limit. Be extra patient with pedestrians and other vehicles and always be prepared to stop at a given moment. Other drivers may be distracted by the trick or treaters inside their vehicle and may not see you. Avoid passing or going around stopped vehicles. They may have passengers entering and exiting hurriedly and carelessly.

Halloween can truly be a fun night full of great memories! Take a few steps to keep it safe and trouble free.

Car radio

Is The Car Radio Distracting?

In still more research on distracted driving, researchers in the United Kingdom looked at whether or not the car radio could be distracting to drivers. The researchers from University College Dublin, Ireland conducted a small scale study using 36 drivers in a full size driving simulator to test whether or not the car radio interfered with a driver’s attention enough to pose a danger. The data seems to support past research that has been conducted on the use of cell phones while driving.

The study was designed to test what’s known as the “perceptual load theory of attention.” That theory states that people only have a limited amount of attention to work with and, once they reach their limit, they can’t process any more information. In this case, the researchers wanted to see if information overload by one sense (hearing) could affect another sense (sight).

The subjects were divided into two groups; a “low attention load” and a “high attention load.” Those in the low attention load group were told to listen to the traffic report on the radio and to note when the traffic reporters switched from male to female, a task that didn’t require a lot of attention.

Those in the high attention load group were told to listen for traffic reports regarding a specific highway; a task that required a good deal more attention. While both groups drove over the simulated course, the researchers would randomly place a large gorilla or an elephant at the side of the road.

The researchers found that 71 percent of those in the low attention load group noticed the gorilla or elephant. In the high attention load group, only 23 percent noticed the large, misplaced animals on the side of the road. The high attention load group also had greater difficulty in obeying yield signs and maintaining proper speed and lane position to avoid hazards.

The fact that the high attention load group experienced difficulty while listening to the radio for comprehension parallels the results of a study conducted by Carnegie Melon researchers in 2008. In that study, subjects were tested first while driving over a simulated driving course and then, when driving over a similar course while carrying on a simulated cell phone conversation; all while their brains were being scanned by an MRI. The study was designed to show what areas of the brain showed the most activity while performing a task. In the first test, without the use of a cell phone, the area of the brain that controlled for spacial awareness (where your body is in relation to other objects around it) was the most active. In the second part of the study where subjects drove while carrying on a simulated cell phone conversation, the area of the brain that showed the most activity was the area that controlled language comprehension and the activity in the spacial awareness area was reduced by 37 percent.

That convinced the Carnegie Melon researchers that “multi-tasking” is a myth; the brain isn’t capable of handling two or more tasks equally at the same time. To concentrate on one task the brain has to rob attention from another control center.

For most drivers, listening to the car radio is a very low attention load activity. For most, listening to the car radio is just background noise. If the average driver were asked what song just played or what product was just advertised, he or she would be unable to say. Usually, the car radio isn’t a distraction at all but, when listening for comprehension, the brain has to shift processing power away from paying attention to the road to paying attention to the radio. If you’ve ever turned down or turned off the car radio while looking for an address or navigating through a strange city, you’re probably instinctively aware of this fact. Paying attention to a cell phone conversation instead of the road ahead is the same thing.

For more information, visit: Does listening to the radio make driving more dangerous?

Emotions and distractions cause traffic crashes

Strong Emotions Increase Crash Rate Tenfold

In 2006, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a natural driving behavior study by outfitting 100 cars with sensors and cameras that observed both the driver and events outside the vehicle.  Recently, VTTI added to that original study by conducting the largest study of its kind. In the latest study, VTTI followed more than 3,500 participants across six points in the US. The results showed that driver emotions are just as, if not more dangerous than driver distractions.

In the first study, the subject vehicles logged nearly two million miles and were involved in 761 near crashes and 82 actual crashes. The results showed that almost 80 percent of motor vehicle crashes and 65% of near crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds before the event.

In the second study, VTTI again outfitted driver’s personal vehicles with unobtrusive instrumentation, including a suite of cameras, sensors, and radar. The instruments continuously recorded real-world driver performance and behavior, from the time the drivers turned on the ignition to the time they turned the engine off. The drivers participated between one and two years each and accumulated more than 35 million miles of observable data.

Unlike the first study that looked at events and driver behaviors that led to both near and actual crashes, the second study only collected data on 1,600 actual crashes ranging in severity from low, such as striking the curb, to severe, police-reportable crashes.

Driving experts have known for years that driver emotions and attitude have the greatest impact on driving safety. This study was able to see that relationship in greater detail. According to the researchers, “drivers increase their crash risk nearly tenfold when they get behind the wheel while observably angry, sad, crying, or emotionally agitated.”

Where distracted driving is concerned, the researchers found that:

  • Drivers engage in some type of distracting activity more than 50 percent of the time they are driving.
  • Crash rates are doubled when drivers engage in distracting activities that require them to take their eyes off the road, such as using a handheld cell phone, reading or writing, or using touchscreen menus on a vehicle instrument panel.

It all comes down to basics; drive the car instead of letting your emotions drive you and avoid distracting behaviors at all costs.

To learn more read: Researchers determine driver risks using large-scale, crash-only naturalistic database


The Dangers Of Hoverboards

A week or so ago, as I was driving through my neighborhood, I came up on three kids riding hoverboards in the oncoming lane. The two boys and a girl, who looked to be around 13 years old, were moving along at a pretty good clip. The girl never took her eyes off of her cell phone while she was in my view. I thought, “here’s a crash waiting to happen.”

Hoverboards were the big gift item of the 2015 Christmas season and apparently sold like hotcakes. Just before Christmas, news reports started appearing showing hoverboard batteries that had caught fire and exploded; destroying at least one home in Louisiana. The fires are happening so often that a lot of college campuses banned hoverboards in their dorms.

While the fires are a legitimate cause for concern, a problem we aren’t hearing a lot about is the potential for serious injury among hoverboard users, especially if they take them on the road.

A statement published this week by the chairman of the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) addressed both the problems of the battery fires and the potential for serious injury by hoverboard users.

At least two teens – one in England and one in Dubai – died when they were thrown from their hoverboards into oncoming traffic. While the CPSC has started collecting data on hoverboard injuries and emergency room (ER) visits, it’s still too early to see if any trends are developing. The only similar activity is skateboarding which leads to an average of 111,000 ER visits by kids under the age of 18 each year. While many of those visits involve sprains, scrapes, and bruises, a significant number also involve traumatic brain injury. In 2014, 28 people were killed in skateboarding related crashes.

One major difference between skateboards and hoverboards is that, unlike skateboards, hoverboards can accelerate on their own depending on the weight and body positioning of the user. New users will have a steep learning curve before they can have total control over the boards.

After a teen in England was killed using a hoverboard, police were quick to remind people that, in the minds of the law, hoverboards are basically Segways without handles and the use of Segways on public property of any kind is illegal. In the US, the technology is so new that most states don’t have laws to cover them yet.

In Florida, if hoverboards are considered to be the same as a Segway without handlebars, they would fall under the law regarding “electric personal assistive mobility devices (EPADs)” and  are allowed:

(a) On a road or street where the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour or less.

(b) On a marked bicycle path.

(c) On any street or road where bicycles are permitted.

(d) At an intersection, to cross a road or street even if the road or street has a posted speed limit of more than 25 miles per hour.

However, if the hoverboard user is under the age of 16, they must wear a bicycle helmet that meets the standards of:

  • the American National Standards Institute (ANSI Z Bicycle Helmet Standards);
  • the standards of the Snell Memorial Foundation (1984 Standard for Protective Headgear for Use in Bicycling);
  • or any other nationally recognized standards for bicycle helmets which are adopted by the department.

Counties, cities and towns can make regulations regarding EPADs and the Department of Transportation can ban their use on roads where they might otherwise be used if it’s felt that the regulations or bans are in the interest of safety.

Children who use hoverboards should:

  • Always wear protective equipment such as helmets and knee and elbow pads.
  • Always be supervised when riding.
  • Restrict their riding to sidewalks and stay out of traffic.

Owners of hoverboards should:

  • Never leave the hoverboard to charge overnight without supervision. The charging process increases the risk of a fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near the hoverboard charging station.

For additional hoverboard safety recommendations, visit: Statement from the U.S. CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye on the Safety of Hoverboards