Voice activated texting

Is Voice Activated Texting While Driving Safer?

Automakers and cell phone companies are pushing voice activated texting as a safe alternative to manual texting but is really safer? Not according to researchers at Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute (TTI).

While most studies of this kind involve observing study participants on computerized virtual driving courses, Christine Yager, an associate transportation researcher at TTI conducted a study in actual cars on a closed driving course; the first study of its kind.

Forty-three participants were observed under several different driving scenarios. They first drove the course without the use of cell phones and their reaction times were measured to create a baseline. They were then observed three more times, texting manually and using two different voice activated texting programs (Siri and Vlingo). Test subject reaction times to lights that came on at random times on the course were measured in each of the driving scenarios.

The study showed that, if the driver chose to visually verify the contents of the text, the voice activated texting systems offered no safety advantage over manual texting.

According to the TTI website, other findings from the study showed:

  • Driver response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used. In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting. With slower reaction times, drivers are less able to take action in response to sudden roadway hazards, such as a swerving vehicle or a pedestrian in the street.
  • The amount of time that drivers spent looking at the roadway ahead was significantly less when they were texting, no matter which texting method was used.
  • For most tasks, manual texting required slightly less time than the voice-to-text method, but driver performance was roughly the same with both.
  • Drivers felt less safe when they were texting, but felt safer when using a voice-to-text application than when texting manually, even though driving performance suffered equally with both methods.

Chimps Do It, Why Can’t We?

An interesting study of wild chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park shows that chimps are extremely cautious when crossing busy roads. The 29 month study observed the chimps’ behavior when crossing busy highways and little traveled roads.

When crossing roads that were rarely traveled, the chimps used little care and crossed in large groups. However, when crossing a busy roadway with cars traveling 45 to 60 mph, the chimps used great care, they looked both ways and, once they were sure the roadway was clear, they crossed quickly in small groups. Fifty-seven percent of the chimps ran across the roadway. As shown in the video above, the older, stronger chimps would wait and make sure younger or weaker chimps crossed safely.

The researchers hope to use the data they gathered to improve roadway safety for the chimps in the park. Road building is on the rise in Africa and African wildlife will be subjected to more and more roadway hazards.

It would almost seem that the same data from the chimp study could be applied to humans but the chimps seem to show much greater care when crossing a highway than humans do. For one thing, chimps will never be seen talking on a cell phone the way sixty percent of pedestrians in the US do when they are crossing roads; nor will you find them with earbuds in their ears listening to an iPod. The chimps will never make eye contact with a driver and expect him to stop in time.

Distracted walking figures are hard to come by but safety experts feel that emergency room figures don’t tell the whole story when it comes to distracted pedestrian injuries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that, if distracted walking figures are similar to distracted driving figures, there may have been approximately two million pedestrian injuries related to cell phone use in 2010.

Not all of those two million injuries involved pedestrians on roadways but the roadway problem is severe. In 2013, there were 4,735 pedestrians killed and an estimated 66,000 injured in traffic crashes in the United States. Pedestrian deaths have made up fourteen percent of the total number of highway deaths for each of the past three years.

Between distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians, it seems that the people who gather and total up crash data are the only ones paying attention to what happens on the road. Everyone needs to start paying more attention to the road; the way chimps do.

Read more: Wild chimps look both ways before crossing roads

Wash the underbody

Wash The Underbody Of Your Vehicle: NHTSA

Wash the underbody of your vehicle is the common sense advisory the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave in closing out a recall investigation of corroded brake lines on older model GM vehicles.

The NHTSA investigation began in 2011 after receiving multiple reports of brake line failures in GM cars and trucks. After a four year investigation of vehicles manufactured between 1999 and 2003, NHTSA concluded that the corrosion of brake lines were mostly limited to those states that use salt or other corrosive chemicals for snow removal on the roads. Their investigation revealed that the brake line corrosion problem wasn’t unique to GM vehicles and occurred at about the same rate as those that occurred in vehicles built by other manufacturers. According to NHTSA, the brake line corrosion problem was due to salt and other corrosive snow removal chemicals that accumulated on the underbody of vehicles and didn’t indicate a manufacturing problem that would require a recall.

Instead of issuing a recall, NHTSA advised all drivers, especially those who live or drive in states where salt and other snow removal chemicals are regularly used, to thoroughly wash the underbody of their vehicles and keep the underbody clean during the spring and summer.

NHTSA also advised vehicle owners, especially those who drive vehicles manufactured in 2007 or earlier, to have the brake lines inspected on a regular basis and replace lines that show evidence of heavy corrosion. They also advised that owners have their brake lines inspected if they experience loss of brake fluid, unusual leaks, or spongy brakes.

If your brakes should fail, NHTSA advises drivers to apply steady force to the brakes and reminds drivers with anti-lock brakes to never pump the brakes.

Read more: NHTSA Closes Investigation into Brake-Line Failures

Tornado On The Road

If you encounter a tornado on the road, what should you do? The driver in the video above was faced with this situation and he had no idea what he should do to escape the force of the tornado. According to the experts, he made one mistake but he also did the correct thing.

We’re in the height of tornado season and, while most tornados at this time of year occur in the plains states, tornadoes can form anywhere there are thunderstorms. Thanks to a 1991 video by a Kansas TV crew, a lot of people think that a highway overpass is the safest place to seek shelter from a storm but weather experts say that an overpass can be the most dangerous place of all to seek shelter. There are several reasons for that:

  • The structure of the overpass can channel the winds into a wind tunnel effect and make them even stronger.
  • Flying debris, traveling at up to 200 mph, can be channeled up into the narrower parts of the overpass and can do as much damage as a bullet. In the Kansas TV video, you can see debris being sucked up toward the area where the people are hiding.
  • The wind under the overpass can change as much as 180 degrees.
  • There are no handholds to cling to as the storm passes.

It turns out that the Kansas film crew was just extremely lucky that the tornado wasn’t that strong.

So what should you do if you encounter a tornado on the road? Weather experts offer the following advice:

  • Do not seek shelter under an overpass.
  • If there’s time, pull off the road and seek shelter in a strong building. Remain in the lowest part of the building in a windowless room or hallway if possible.
  • If you can’t get to a building, seek an area such as a culvert or ditch below the level of the roadway; Cover your head with your hands.
  • If there is nowhere to escape, remain in your vehicle with your seat belt fastened; lay down below window level and cover your head with a coat or blanket, if possible.

The man in the video above made a mistake by backing up under the overpass but he made the right choice by remaining inside his vehicle and laying down below the window level. He was very fortunate.

Remember, just because the funnel cloud has passed, you aren’t out of danger yet. Straight line winds that flow outside the area of the funnel cloud can do more damage than the funnel cloud itself. Another video from the recent tornado in Illinois shows a semi toppling over well after the funnel cloud had passed.

For more information on storm safety and how to deal with a tornado on the road, read: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning…Nature’s Most Violent Storms

Reflective vests for children

Reflective Vests At School Bus Stops

Should children be required to wear reflective vests at school bus stops? That’s the opinion of a South Carolina man after he was involved in a tragic incident last month.

At 6:30 in the morning, a 15 year old girl, escorting her younger siblings to school, tried to cross a four lane highway. Wearing dark clothes and crossing away from an intersection, she was struck first by a semi and then struck again as she was lying in the roadway. Police didn’t charge either driver because they felt there was little either driver could do to avoid hitting her.

Torn by the incident, the driver of the second vehicle wrote a letter to his state representative asking for a law that would require children at school bus stops to wear reflective vests.

His proposal isn’t a bad idea. While it may not be necessary for the state to pass a law, it is certainly something that school boards should encourage and parents can easily do on their own. With the time change last month, many kids are heading out to school while it’s still dark. Kids are impulsive and don’t always follow the rules. Anything that can be done to make them more visible is a good idea.

A quick search for children’s reflective vests on Google shows a wide variety of vests from $5 to $15. A cheap price to make the kids more visible. Reflective tape can also be sewn or pasted on backpacks at a very low cost.

Read more: Driver who hit Darlington teen asking lawmakers to require safety vests at bus stops