SatNav, MP3 players and speaker phones help keep road deaths at 10-year high
Don’t SatNav and drive.
Deaths on the road reached 40,000 last year, down just 1% from 40,100 in 201, according to a report released Thursday by National Safety Council. These figures remain high despite automatic emergency breaks, plus nationwide seat belt and sober driving campaigns. Traffic deaths exceeded 40,000 in 2016 for the first time since 2006. Some 4.57 million people were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, and costs to society reached nearly $414 billion, also down 1% on the year.
“This is a stark reminder that our complacency is killing us,” said Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council. “The only acceptable number is zero. We need to mobilize a full court press to improve roadway safety.” This is all the more critical, given the increasing amount of time commuters spend in their cars, the number of people who continue to drive above the legal speed limits and the number of people who drive under the influence of alcohol or with a lack of sleep.
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One reason for that complacency: Automobile technology. Drivers who identify as being “rarely distracted” engage in behavior they don’t believe is risky: 59% talk on the phone versus 93% for self-described “distracted” drivers, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 drivers by esurance, an Allstate Corp. ALL, -1.20% auto insurer. Some 77% say they view GPS navigation apps versus 96% for distracted drivers. On the plus side, only 10% of rarely distracted drivers say they text while driving, compared to 63% of distracted drivers.
Many in-built features in the latest crop of cars are so distracting they should not be enabled while a vehicle is in motion, according to a separate survey by University of Utah researchers. The study, led by psychology professor David Strayer, found in-vehicle information systems — including SatNav, MP3 players, radios, cellphones and messaging devices — take drivers’ attention off the road for too long to be safe, much like texting.
Texting is not the most distracting thing you can do while driving:
• The No. 1 most distracting task: Programming navigation devices
• The No. 2. most distracting task: Sending or receiving text messages
• The No. 2. most distracting task: Audio entertainment and making calls
Accident data shows people still text when they drive, but SatNav is actually more dangerous when used while the car is in motion. “With the best intentions, we will put some technology in the car that we think will make the car safer, but people being people will use that technology in ways that we don’t anticipate,” Strayer said. Greater consideration should be given to what manufacturers install in cars in order to make them more appealing to drivers, he added.
The study, which was conducted for the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit organization in Heathrow, Fla., reviewed found in-vehicle information systems in 30 different 2017 vehicles. Participants were required to engage in four types of tasks using voice, touch screen and other interactive technologies. The tasks were to make a call, send a text message, tune the radio or program navigation while driving.
Why should drivers be alarmed about these findings?
Drivers using features such as voice-based and touch-screen technology took their hands, eyes and mind off the road for more than 24 seconds to complete tasks, the study found. This is enough to put the drive at risk of a serious accident: Previous research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the risk of a crash doubles when a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds. Worse, programming navigation took an average of 40 seconds to complete.
Federal law prohibits train engineers from using cellphones, but there’s no federal ban on car drivers. Some 15 states and the District of Columbia, however, do have bans on handheld cellphone use — including New York, New Jersey and California — and 47 states and D.C. explicitly ban texting (Washington was the first state to ban texting, in 2007). That means it’s up to drivers to regulate their own behavior, especially when it comes to the car’s in-built features.
What have other studies found causes automobile accidents?
Driving while using a cellphone reduces brain activity associated with driving — “spatial processing” that helps drivers remember and make sense of the objects on the street — by 37%, according to a 2008 research paper by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Some 10% of fatal crashes, 15% of injury crashes and 14% of all police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015 were reported as “distraction affected” crashes.
Cellphone use is estimated to be involved in 26% of all motor vehicle crashes, a 2013 National Safety Council study found. But it’s not texting — widely regarded as the scourge of road accidents — that’s the biggest problem. Only 5% of cellphone-related crashes involve texting, while the other 21% involve drivers talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones. This risky behavior obviously poses a danger to vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians and bicyclists.
What’s been done to reduce accidents due to distracted driving?
New York state’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, told the Associated Press in July that the state is testing technology that will allow police to identify drivers who are texting and driving. “This review will examine the effectiveness of using this new emerging technology to crack down on this reckless behavior and thoroughly evaluate its implications,” he told the AP. The technology is being developed by Cellebrite, an Israeli-based technology company.
Apple AAPL, +2.39% wants to stop drivers from texting in the first place by hanging a “Do Not Disturb While Driving” sign on their iPhone’s iOS 11. It allows a driver to mute text messages without having to turn the phone off. The screen will go black. Again, this relies on the driver to initiate and doesn’t deal with the multiple distractions or “must-have features” that already exist in most cars — including Apple CarPlay, which can show everything from messaging apps to audiobooks.
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