Hands Free Distracts Drivers Long After Hanging Up
November 6, 2015
We’ve written before on the fact that hands free communication devices are no safer or any less distracting for drivers than hand held devices; now there’s evidence that shows they’re still distracting, even after hanging up.
A new study conducted by the University of Utah for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) shows that it can take up to 27 seconds before the brain can refocus on the task of driving after hanging up on a hands free call or text message. To put that into context, over a period of 27 seconds, a vehicle traveling at just 25 mph will cover approximately 992 feet or the length of three football fields before the driver is able to fully concentrate on the mental task of driving.
The University of Utah conducted two different studies for AAA. The first studied the distraction level of using hands free voice commands to dial phone numbers, call contacts, select music, and send voice texts with Microsoft Cortana, Apple Siri and Google Now. The study showed that, while Google Now was a bit less distracting, all three systems were highly distracting to the drivers.
The second study looked at voice dialing, contact calling, and music selection using in-vehicle “infotainment” systems installed in ten different 2015 model year cars. The study found that three of the systems were moderately distracting, six were rated as highly distracting, and the system installed in the Mazda 6 was found to be very highly distracting.
The tests were conducted using volunteers ranging in age from 21 to 70. The volunteers were accompanied by a researcher as they drove at 25 mph on a 2.7 mile route in a Salt Lake City neighborhood. Each volunteer wore a head mounted device that flashed a red LED light every three to five seconds just to the left of the driver’s vision. Each time they saw the light, drivers would note it using a thumb mounted button. Cameras and other sensors mounted in the vehicle recorded how much time the driver’s eyes were on the road, mirrors, or dashboard. Drivers also participated in a survey to record their perceived attention span during and after the hands free activities. Before conducting the tests, the drivers were allowed to take the car home for a five day period to learn and try to become proficient with the systems.
Most people felt that their full attention was restored after hanging up but the data showed that wasn’t the case. The researchers feel that high tech manufacturers are rolling out the systems too early. There hasn’t been enough time devoted to perfecting the systems and verifying their safety.
Read more: Up to 27 seconds of inattention after talking to your car or smartphone
Photo and graph credits: AAA Foundation for Highway Safety
Watch for Deer On The Road
October 21, 2015
It’s that time of year again when it’s important for drivers to watch for deer on the road. The term “deer” also includes moose, elk, and caribou in those parts of the country where they live.
Deer tend to congregate along the sides of the roads during the fall mating season from October through the end of the year and are mostly encountered at dawn and dusk when it’s hardest to see them.
According to the Washington State Department of Transportation, your chances of hitting a deer are greatest:
- When there aren’t a lot of big trucks on the road. Researchers feel that the presence of large trucks on the road lead car drivers to be more cautious and alert. The noise created by the trucks may also help to drive the deer away.
- When the speed limit is above 50 mph, giving drivers less time to react.
- When there are fewer lanes.
- When the median is 6 feet wide or narrower.
Your chances of being involved in a collision with a deer on the road also depends on the state in which you live. According to data compiled by State Farm Insurance, a Florida driver’s chances of hitting a deer are 1 in 930 compared to West Virginia where a driver has a 1 in 44 chance of an encounter.
Most often, your first hint of a deer on the road will be the light reflected from their eyes.
Once you see one, slow down. You can count on more deer being close by but you can’t count on how they will behave as your vehicle draws near..
Since deer tend to forage at night, their eyes have evolved to gather more light. Once those large eyes are hit by the beams from a car’s headlight, it results in an explosion of light that blinds and immobilizes the deer (the deer in the headlights effect).
Honking your horn may frighten the deer and cause it to run but it could just as easily run into the roadway. Honking your horn is only a good choice if you’re driving slowly enough that a collision won’t do much damage.
If a deer runs into the road, don’t give into the temptation to swerve in hopes of avoiding it. Swerving may cause you to lose control of your vehicle leading to an even worse crash. Sadly, it’s often a safer choice to hit the animal that has run out into the road rather than swerving to avoid it.
In 2013, four drivers were killed and 465 were injured in crashes involving animals on Florida roads. Nationwide in 2013, according to the Insurance Information Institute, there were 191 deaths caused by collisions with animals.
Autonomous Vehicles Can Save Money, Lives
October 1, 2015
A couple of interesting studies have been published recently that show that the adoption of autonomous vehicles (AVs) and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems will not only save time and money but will, most importantly, save lives.
In a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, researchers pointed out ten ways AVs could change the automotive world. Among their findings, the researchers estimated that:
- Miles could be cut and auto emissions reduced by as much as 60 percent by the use of automated fleets.
- AV users will save as much as 50 minutes per day to use in other pursuits.
- Auto insurers will shift from insuring drivers to insuring the technology, allowing individual drivers to save billions in insurance costs annually.
- To quickly capture market share in the AV field, manufacturers will focus first on providing accessible mobility that will free disabled users from their dependence on public paratransit providers.
- With the AV ability to drop the user off at the door and then fit into a much tighter parking space, the need for parking spaces will be reduced by more than 5.7 billion square meters.
- E-hailing taxi services and peer-to-peer rentals will reduce the need for large numbers of vehicles freeing up roadways, and parking lots along with improving traffic flow and reducing pollution.
Most important of all, the researchers predict that the vehicle crash rate will be reduced by as much as 90 percent. That means that of the 32,719 fatalities and 2,313,000 injuries in 2013, 29,447 lives could have been saved and 2,081,700 fewer people would have been injured.
However, we don’t have to wait for fully autonomous vehicles to start saving lives on the road.
Another study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group showed that 10,000 lives per year could be saved through use of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that are currently on the market.
According to the researchers, 28 percent of all crashes in the US could be prevented if vehicle owners were to invest in the most common forms of ADAS available on the market today. Those systems include:
- Forward collision warning/assist/adaptive cruise control,
- Blind spot detection,
- Night vision,
- Lane departure warning/lane keep assist,
- Adaptive front lighting,
- Surround view, and
- Park assist features
The problem is that few potential buyers are willing to spend the extra amount or don’t understand how the systems work enough to realize their potential value. However, consumers could quickly recover the extra costs based on the amount they save in insurance costs.
The increased introduction of ADAS and AVs depend both on the development of new technologies by manufacturers and the willingness of consumers to buy those technologies. Once that starts happening, Americans will start to save more time, money, and, most important of all, lives.
Read more: Ten ways autonomous driving could redefine the automotive world
Nearly 10,000 Deaths Could Be Prevented and More Than $250 Billion Saved with Greater Use of Driver Assistance Technologies
Hurricane Or Tropical Storm – Plan Ahead
August 28, 2015
While we’ve dealt with a tropical storm or two over the past few years, Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane in ten years. That means that a lot of people may have forgotten what it’s like to go through a hurricane and may not realize the full dangers a storm like that can pose. It’s too early to tell whether the current tropical storm Erika may develop into a hurricane but even if it remains as a tropical storm, the high winds and torrential rains can still be deadly and current models have it passing over Florida or just off the coast.
If you chose to evacuate ahead of the storm, leave early! Those who remember evacuating the state as hurricane Floyd neared in 1999 may remember the nightmare on the roads as 2.6 million people tried to evacuate from coastal Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. At that time, Florida emergency management people were ill prepared for the numbers of people evacuating and traffic was stop-and-go from south Florida to central Georgia. One lesson learned from that storm was to close all lanes of the interstates to inbound traffic and open all lanes to outbound traffic going in one direction only.
For those in coastal areas, leaving early is critical because there will come a point in the storm when all bridges and causeways will be closed due to high winds and people who delay leaving will be stuck where they are.
If you plan to evacuate, plan ahead. With heavy stop-and-go traffic on the interstates, you may spend hours traveling between exits. To prepare for that:
- Fill your tank with gas before you leave and don’t let the tank go below half full if you can avoid it.
- Gas stations, restaurants, and stores may be overwhelmed and quickly run out of supplies.
- Take water and snacks with you.
- Withdraw cash ahead of time; with power outages, ATMs may be out of service.
Cell phone service may be disrupted. If members of your party in separate vehicles get separated:
- Select a place to meet ahead of time.
- Select an out of town family member to contact and let them know you’re OK.
Beware of flooding; especially after the storm has passed.
Even after the worst part of the storm has passed, flooding will be an issue as water rushes into creeks and rivers and they start to rise. In recent years, tropical storm flooding has washed out roads and bridges.
If there’s standing or rushing water over the road:
- You can’t tell what the road may be like underneath; it could be washed away or it could collapse under the weight of your vehicle. Turn around and find another route.
- Less than an inch of water can cause a driver to lose control.
- As little as six inches of rushing water has enough force to push your car off the road.
- Your car can float in as little as two feet of water and you could be washed away into a flooded stream or river.
Traffic in the evacuation zones will be heavy and drivers will be stressed:
- Remember that no one has the right-of-way; you can only give up the right-of-way to another driver.
- If another driver insists on taking the right-of-way, give it to them; it’s not worth getting into a fight over a few seconds of your time.
- If you encounter a road rage situation, do not confront the other driver. Keep your doors and windows shut and try to exit the situation as quickly as possible.
- Remember that emergency services will be overwhelmed and you may not be able to call 911 for help.
For help in planning, visit: Get A Plan
Hidden Sleep Disorders Can Be Dangerous
August 24, 2015
A new Institute of Medicine report points out the health and safety dangers posed by undetected sleep disorders. According to medical experts, hidden sleep disorders can lead to cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and possibly Alzheimer’s. Especially dangerous are the dangers of industrial accidents and motor vehicle crashes caused by drowsy driving.
Many people in their 50’s to 60’s could be suffering from one or more of these hidden sleep disorders and simply attribute their sleepiness to advancing age. Individuals with sleep disorders may also be in denial because they don’t have any of the risk factors such as alcohol use or smoking.
While driving, lack of sleep can lead to a lack of concentration on the road ahead. In many cases, drowsy driving can cause what is known as a micro-sleep, where the driver nods off for a second or two. A second or two may not seem too bad until you consider that, at highway speeds, a car can travel almost 200 feet in two seconds. A second or two is long enough to drive into another lane or off the road.
A 2014 study by AAA found that drowsy driving was responsible for 21 percent of fatal crashes and the deaths of an average of 6,400 people per year.
Without any obvious symptoms reported by the individuals or spouses, the only way to diagnose these hidden sleep disorders is through a sleep study in a specially designed sleep lab. In these labs, subjects spend the night in a soundproof, totally dark room while their brainwaves, respiration and other signs are monitored by staff in a central control room.
If an obstructive airway is diagnosed as the cause of these sleep disorders, a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine is often prescribed. However, many don’t like the idea of sleeping while wearing a mask and hooked by hoses to a noisy machine. For those who resist that idea, there are alternatives such as surgery to open up the airway or an appliance worn inside the mouth that pushes the lower jaw forward.
For others sleep therapy can be as simple as changing lifestyle habits such as watching alcohol intake, staying up too late, or watching TV in the bedroom.
Doctors advise that, if you feel sleepy during your normal wake hours on a regular basis, you may be suffering from one or more of these sleep disorders. The study’s authors advised medical practitioners to consider lack of sleep and question their patients on their sleep habits as part of their routine diagnostic process.
Read more: Snooze Alert: A Sleep Disorder May Be Harming Your Body And Brain