Monday, January 22, 2007

Confronting Driver Distraction

Safer cars yeild less-safe driving ...

"On a recent road trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on Interstate 15, I noticed a seemingly countless array of tire scuff marks leading from the center median, arcing steeply over to the right-hand side fog line, and off the road. The sharp angles of these scuff marks were a clear sign of drivers losing control of their vehicles.

The drivers are so inattentive, perhaps even asleep, that they drive into the center of the road before they are jolted back to reality as the vehicle hits the median. Upon regaining consciousness, they overcorrect their steering, causing the vehicle to spin out of control and even roll over. Most drivers fail to recognize the immense power of a speeding vehicle's kinetic energy.

Driver distraction is responsible for 80% of motor-vehicle accidents, according to a recent study for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Drivers have literally been lulled into a false sense of safety and security by the very sophistication of the modern car. Newer vehicles drive more and more effortlessly. A similar study of driver behavior found no reduction of accidents or injuries in cars with airbags and antilock brakes. The researchers concluded that the safety features encourage more-aggressive drivinga paradox referred to as the offset hypothesis.

You build more-effortless vehicles, people will exert less effortand attentiondriving them. Driver distraction is not so much due to sensory overload as to complacent driving. We multitask while driving just like we do at work. It's become commonplace to spot someone on the freeway chatting on a cell phone, shaving or applying makeup, or even reading.

The problem is that the density of traffic has increased dramatically at the same time that our comfort level with operating our cars has increased. Now, even a brief moment of distraction can easily coincide with a sudden dangerous event, such as another distracted driver swerving to change lanes.

Another key issue is that our comfort while driving these easy-to-handle vehicles encourages us to drive faster. We simply don't sense that we're driving too fast. The average vehicle now weighs as much as 40% more than those even 10 years ago, and we go faster without realizing that this combination of greater mass and velocity dramatically increases our kinetic energy. For example, a family that trades up from a 3,300-pound Volvo station wagon to a 4,300-pound Ford Explorer, then increases their cruising speed from 70 to 75 mph, boosts the family car's kinetic energy by about 50%."    (Continued via THE FUTURIST)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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