The National Safety Commission Alerts

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Problem With Distracted Driving

How bad of a problem are distracted drivers? A landmark study for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in 2006 found that nearly 80 % of crashes and 65% of near crashes involved some sort of driver inattention within 3 seconds of the event. The majority of the incidents involved drivers who took their eyes off of the road ahead for more than two seconds. Two seconds might not seem like a long time until you consider that a car traveling at 40 mph will travel more than 117 feet during that time.

Distracted driving has become so problematic that two states, Connecticut and New Hampshire along with the District of Columbia, have passed laws making distracted/negligent driving a traffic offense. Other states are considering similar legislation. Maine’s legislature is considering a bill outlawing the use of electronic devices, applying cosmetics, performing personal grooming or any other distractions as determined by local law enforcement. Six states have now banned the use of hand-held cell phones and 19 states have totally banned the use of cell phones for teenage drivers. The Governors Highway Safety Association is calling on all states to pass legislation prohibiting certain distracting activities along with pushing for increased awareness and education on the issue.

New technology designed to improve driving safety and to prevent collisions may be of some help. Some of the new technologies include:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control that uses forward looking radar to determine the distance from the car ahead, automatically slowing the vehicle when the distance narrows and regaining speed when traffic conditions are safe.

  • Collision Avoidance with Brake Support sounds an alarm, activates a warning light and pre-charges the brakes assist system in case the driver needs to slam on the brakes.

  • Adaptive Headlamps that pivot in the direction of travel allowing better vision on curves.

  • Lane Departure Warning Systems that alert a driver if they are veering out of their lane.

  • Blind Spot Detection Systems that warn of other vehicles in your blind spot.

Other technology being developed uses in car cameras that can detect when a driver's eyes are off the road too long or if the driver is becoming drowsy. This system warns the driver and suggests taking a break from driving.

All of this technology is great but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety warns that some of these new technologies may make a driver feel as if the car is on auto-pilot allowing them to become more complacent or to feel that they can take even greater risks.

Brain scan studies show that our brains really aren't adapted to multi-tasking especially when we are driving. So what is the best crash avoidance strategy? Multiple studies show that driver attention on the road ahead is the key to safe driving. Getting plenty of rest before driving, not using cell phones or other wireless devices, keeping both hands on the wheel and both eyes on the road are the key. Driving is really a very complex task and the bottom line is that, in spite of all the new technology, driver error is and will continue to be the primary reason for traffic crashes.

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