Friday, March 4, 2011

Distracted by the Distraction

Distracted driving is a serious issue.  Unfortunately, we are getting somewhat
distracted on the issue.  Cell phones
have become the focal point of the discussion. At the recent Distracted Driving Summit Conference in Washington D.C.
the overwhelming focus was on the dangers of phones/texting – creating laws and
enforcing these regulations.  No debate
that phones/texts are a serious distraction while driving.

It is the easy issue to talk about.  However, many people may be surprised at
where this stacks up in the total universe of distractions that result in
collisions.  According to a study on
distractions (Glaze, Ellis), cell phone usage does not fall within the top
three of major distractions that were correlated with collisions.  Cell phone usage represented only 3.9% of the distractions that were
associated with collisions.  Bigger
distractions included items outside of the car (35%), the radio (7%) and eating
(4%).  If we are going to effectively
deal with reducing distracted driving, should we not spend a little more time
understanding the other 96% of the problem?

Another key statistic is 3 seconds.  It would appear that there is some magic
around the length of time the driver becomes distracted.  Distractions are a part of driving.  What we are not providing is effective
training on how to manage these distractions. The overwhelming messaging to drivers is to eliminate distractions.  In Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation’s
video on distracted driving seems to be a bit over the top to be taken
seriously.  Yes if a driver juggles a
cell phone AND an iPod they are
unreasonably distracted – not to mention the difficulty of controlling the
steering while holding two devices.

Here is a possible intervention.  First help drivers understand why they get
distracted.  People are naturally curious
and the eyes are actively attracted to new information.  They will look at the flashing lights at the
side of the road.  The key is to keep
this to a minimum.  Act like a
camera.  Take a quick snapshot and
process the information as you look back to the road ahead.  Next time you are in the car, practise taking
snapshots – you will be amazed at how much information you will pick up in
under a second.  More information will
result in better decisions; thus, addressing the biggest cause of collisions –
poor decision making.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What are you seeing?

What are you missing?  One study says that a different piece of information is introduced to you as a driver every two feet, which, at 30 miles per hour, means you are exposed to 1320 new bits of information per minute. This is comparable, to reading three paragraphs while looking at pretty pictures, as well as all of the things just mentioned "every minute you drive.” (Tom Vanderbilt, “Traffic”). 
Now add this next statistic: Progressive Insurance polled 11,000 of its policyholders who experienced accidents.  They found that 52% were involved in accidents within five miles from their home and 69% were involved in accidents within ten miles from their home. Only 17% of those polled experienced accidents beyond twenty miles from his or her home (, Oct 2008).
Being in a familiar area should take some of the strain off on the processing demand.  It should be easier to process information in an area where you already have a wealth of data.  Studies show that it takes the brain 6 to 10 seconds to process new information; therefore, you should have an advantage close to home where you already have the knowledge base.
Our brain gets tricked.  We routinely go through dangerous areas and over time we get complacent through the safe management of these hazards.  A helpful tip is to deploy the “fire alarm” technique to refreshing batteries – change the batteries when daylight savings starts and ends.  For driving, do an inventory of your environment on the change of season.  With the start of winter, here is what I re-looked within my driving world:
·         False Positive Intersections - those intersections where you cannot clearly see the cross traffic approaching.  The tendency for drivers to scan left or right for cross traffic - get blocked by bushes, fences, parked cars – and falsely believe there are no cars present.  In the winter, in snowy conditions, it is more likely that cars will implement rolling stops.  These intersections are now very dangerous. Make sure you can see what is on the other side of that snow bank.
·         The “Little Dipper” – minor grade changes in the road, particularly before intersections.  The constant stopping and starting makes these very slippery and add the physics of forward momentum and we get lots of fender benders.
·         Above ground ramps and bridges.  Without the insulating properties of the ground, these areas freeze over faster than the rest of the roadway.
·         Time to scan the top of trucks.  Never a lot of fun to have the chunk of ice land on your car.
Finally, maybe it is time to consider a different route to and from work.  Change it up.  The extra 5 minutes will increase your alertness and may save a lot of time in the end.  When you go back to the old route, you will be pleasantly surprised at what you will now be seeing.