In-dash display screens

Computer Display Screens In Cars Add To Distractions

Computer display screens that automakers are adding to their new models are going to add to the distractions on the road according to experts. The screens, which are tablet size, are supposed to fulfill all the functions of a smartphone.

Both Google and Apple are making built-in computer display systems for cars and automakers seem to be rushing to get them installed and out to potential buyers. According to the automakers, it’s what the customer wants.

Google is producing an Android based system called Android Auto and Apple is producing an iOS operated system they’re calling Apple CarPlay. Both systems are designed to sync with and provide all of the features available in a smartphone including, email, twitter, streaming music and maps. Other apps are also available and more are sure to be added as time goes on.

The computer makers claim that the built-in display screens, some of which feature no-touch and voice activated controls are safer for drivers to use than trying to get all the same information while holding a phone. That may be true in some cases but only to a small degree.

Using these display screens will still require a driver to look away from the road ahead and look at the screen, even if only for a couple of seconds. At 45 mph, a car will travel 132 feet in two seconds and a lot can happen in that distance and time.

According to researchers, voice-activated systems aren’t that safe. Studies have shown that a voice activated system like Siri can cause even more distraction than a hand-held phone. Part of the distraction comes from the frustration of dealing with a voice-activated system that doesn’t understand what you want or displays the wrong information.

When it comes to voice activated texting, researchers in Texas found that, if a driver chose to visually verify the contents of a text, the voice activated systems offered no safety advantage over manual texting.

The problem comes in the skills and brain functions needed to drive. Those are:

  • Visual – Keeping your eyes on the road ahead and watching for signals or potential hazards.
  • Manual – The manual act of steering and operating the pedals.
  • Cognitive – Using your mind to interpret what you are seeing and to make minor or major changes in steering, speed, or both depending on what’s happening on the roadway.

All three of these skills and functions must act together in order to drive safely. If one or more are involved in another activity, driving becomes much more dangerous:

  • Whether using hand-held phones or built-in display screens, to make choices, your vision is focused on the display screen and not the road ahead.
  • While formulating a response to a text message or carrying on a phone conversation, your cognitive abilities are tied up in the act of texting or listening to the other person and your ability to make rapid decisions regarding the traffic situation is diminished.
  • When waving your hand over a display screen to look for or make a music selection, you’re using all three of the functions and skills that should be focused on the very important job of driving.

Many drivers will find, much to their regret, that these display screens don’t add any appreciable degree of safety and they may make the road much more dangerous.

Read more: Car dashboards that act like smart phones raise safety issues

Sleeping pills

Prescription Sleeping Pills Lead To Higher Crash Rate

A study conducted by the University of Washington School of Pharmacy shows that people using prescribed sleeping pills are at a greater risk for experiencing a motor vehicle crash. The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, revealed that the risk of a car crash is nearly double among new users of the medications temazepam (Restoril), zolpidem (Ambien, Ambien CR) and trazodone (Desyrel).

The dangers posed by these drugs for drivers is worse for those who have been newly prescribed and the increased crash risk can last for up to a year. Among the three drugs followed in the study, temazepam showed the least risk.

The head researcher, Ryan Hansen was quoted as saying the idea for the research came from a friend who, after taking  a prescription sleeping pill, woke up in the kitchen and noticed a bite taken out of some raw pork in the refrigerator.

Over the last few years there have been many instances of what has been dubbed “sleep driving” while using the popular prescription pill Ambien. The most notable story involved US Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island who crashed into the gatehouse of the US capitol in the middle of the night. He explained to capitol police that he was late for a vote.

The list of side effects for Ambien include the following warnings;

  • “Ambien may impair your thinking or reactions. You may still feel sleepy the morning after taking this medicine, especially if you take the extended-release tablet, or if you are a woman. Wait at least 4 hours or until you are fully awake before you do anything that requires you to be awake and alert.”
  • “Some people using this medicine have engaged in activity such as driving, eating, walking, making phone calls, or having sex and later having no memory of the activity. If this happens to you, stop taking Ambien and talk with your doctor about another treatment for your sleep disorder.”

Ambien has become one of the most prescribed drugs in America. The researchers in this study suggested that health care providers need to evaluate the necessity of these sleeping pills vs the risks they pose. They suggested that insomnia can be treated without sleeping pills by lifestyle changes such as reduced caffeine use and exercise.

Any drug that can make you sleepy, including common over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can affect your driving. You can be arrested for DUI if your driving abilities are impaired by any type of drug including over-the-counter and prescription medications.

Read more: For new users, sleeping pills may double car crash risk

Google navigation system to alert of railroad crossings

Google Navigation System To Alert Drivers Of Railroad Crossings

The Google navigation system will soon alert drivers of all railroad grade crossings in their path. According to news reports, Google and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will announce a partnership to upgrade the Google navigation system so that drivers using the navigation system will be alerted to all railroad crossings on their chosen route.

Railroad crossing incidents have steadily increased over the past three years. FRA officials aren’t sure why the number of crossing incidents are on the rise but it’s hoped that the new partnership with Google will help to reduce those numbers.

No date has been given for when the data will be available on the Google navigation system but Google executives say the project will be given a top priority.

The FRA has also reached out to Apple, MapQuest, TomTom and Garmin to include railroad crossing alerts on their navigation systems.

According to FRA data, between January and March of this year, there have been 531 crashes at railroad crossings in the US. Over the last three years, 732 people were killed at railroad crossings and 2,791  were injured in a total of 6,369 railroad crossing incidents. Thirty of those railroad crossing deaths occurred in Florida.

Many of those railroad crossing crashes occurred due to either driver inattention or driver impatience. Too many drivers try to beat trains at railroad crossings with disastrous results.

In Jacksonville, FL alone, over the past month, one car was cut in half by a train when the driver ignored railroad crossing arms and signals and tried to beat a train across the tracks. Luckily no one was killed but four people, including a pregnant passenger were injured.

In another Duval County incident this past weekend, one train was stopped at a crossing and the driver apparently didn’t see another train approaching on the other track when he drove around the downed crossing arms. One person was killed and another critically injured in that crash.

Because they’re so large, trains appear to be going slower than they actually are. Regardless of their speed, the massive weight of railroad locomotives can do a tremendous amount of damage. The weight of a train also means that it takes a very long time for a train to be brought to a stop. For freight trains, it can take up to a mile to bring the train to a full stop.

Read more: Agency Taps Mapping Technology to Curb Rail Crossing Accidents

LATCH mechanism

IIHS Rates Child Safety Seat LATCH Mechanisms

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has come out with a rating list of child safety seat LATCH mechanisms. LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) systems, which have been required equipment on passenger vehicles since 2002, are supposed to make it easier for parents and caregivers to safely install child safety seats. In this first review of LATCH system ease of use, few cars made the grade.

LATCH systems consist of anchor points low on the seat and tether points on the back of the seat. Research shows that child seats installed with LATCH, rather than with vehicle seat belts, are more likely to be installed correctly. Whether or not parents use LATCH correctly depends on the attachment point’s visibility and ease of access.

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics study in 2014, 93 percent of new parents taking their newborn home from the hospital for the first time made at least one critical error in placing or attaching their infant car seat. LATCH systems are supposed to make that process easier but, according to the IIHS, most cars LATCH systems are difficult to find or are difficult to reach making it more difficult to attach car seats.

In conducting their study, the IIHS looked at five different criteria for a vehicle to receive a “good” rating:

  • The lower anchors are no more than 3/4 inch deep in the seat bight.
  • The lower anchors are easy to maneuver around. This is defined as having a clearance angle greater than 54 degrees.
  • The force required to attach a standardized tool to the lower anchors is less than 40 pounds. (The tool represents a lower connector of a child seat, though the actual force required when installing a seat varies depending on the specific connector.)
  • Tether anchors are on the vehicle’s rear deck or on the top 85 percent of the seatback. They shouldn’t be at the very bottom of the seatback, under the seat, on the ceiling or on the floor.
  • The area where the tether anchor is found doesn’t have any other hardware that could be confused for the tether anchor. If other hardware is present, then the tether anchor must have a clear label located within 3 inches of it.

According to the IIHS, out of 102 models tested, only three models received a good rating; they are:

  • BMW 5 series
  • Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
  • Volkswagen Passat

Out of the rest of the models tested, 44 were acceptable, 45 were marginal, and 10 were rated poor.

To read more and to view all of the models and their LATCH ease of use ratings, visit: IIHS launches ease-of-use ratings of LATCH hardware in vehicles

For information on choosing and installing the right car seat for your child, visit: Parents Central

Cause of super fog

Conditions Are Right For Super Fog

Conditions are right for the formation of super fog in Florida right now and that could make driving treacherous for Floridians.

Despite some recent scattered thunderstorms, North Florida is currently experiencing drought conditions and is considered the driest area in the state. The few recent thunderstorms in the area have built up quickly and then rapidly disappeared however, the lightning created by these storms can strike areas far from the rainfall. Those lightning strikes are causing wildfires and it appears that North Florida may be entering a significant fire season. Already, multiple wildfires have popped up throughout the region.

Current Florida Fire Conditions 6-16-15

It’s bad enough when the smoke from these fires crosses over roadways. Heavy smoke can make driving conditions extremely hazardous but, when the smoke mixes with fog, conditions can rapidly turn deadly.

As we all know from our basic science classes, warm air holds a lot more moisture and, when humidity levels near 100 percent, fog can form; especially in the cooler, early morning hours. If the fog mixes with smoke from a wildfire, the water droplets in the fog can coat the smoke particles turning it into what’s known as a super fog. Super fog is much more dense and doesn’t dissipate as quickly as a normal fog.

Super fog has been responsible for some of the largest multi-vehicle crashes in the country.

Super fog caused a multi-vehicle crash on I-75 near Gainesville in January 2013 that killed 10 people and injured more than 20 others. Rescuers couldn’t see the victims but, instead, had to listen for screams and moans to reach the injured.

In January 2008, a super fog on I-4 near Lakeland, FL was responsible for a pileup involving 70 vehicles that killed four people and injured 38 others.

If you encounter thick smoke, fog, or a combination of the two, slow down and get off the road. Turning on your hazard lights may not do any good because the fog can be so thick, your lights won’t be visible to other drivers until it’s too late. Crack your window to listen for crashes ahead and, if possible, get off at the nearest exit.

See more: World News: Deadly Pileup