Monday, October 11, 2010

Factors Involved in Distracted Driving

This recent report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Distracted Driving and Driver, Roadway, and Environmental Factors, got me thinking once again about my efforts to cut down on my own distracted driving. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I decided about 10 months ago to give up talking on my cell phone while driving. So far it hasn't been as bad as I expected. I find that I use to the time to ponder work problems, plan my schedule for the week, or just muse on life issues (when I'm not bopping along to cheesy country music, that is).

Thus, it was with great relief that I learned from this report that "distraction from internal sources was more common than distraction due to non-driving cognitive activities"-- or in plain non-academic speak, more people are distracted by stuff (or people) inside their cars prior to a crash than by just thinking, like I do. Phew.

Interestingly, despite our recent focus on distraction from electronic devives, "Among 14 internal sources of distraction, conversing with a passenger was the most frequently recorded source -- 17 percent...." The report goes on to warn that this doesn't necessarily suggest that passenger conversation was the cause of the crash, just that it was happening prior to the crash occurrence. So you don't have give up talking in the car just yet. And of course, phones aren't blameless in all of this--they're the second-mosts common distraction recorded. Not surprisingly, cell phone use was higher among younger and middle-aged drivers, and women--which likely reflects patterns of cell phone usage overall. And, if there's any good news to come out of the statistics, "Drivers mostly conversed on phone when there was no traffic flow interruption." So I guess at least people are using at least a little judgment in their phone habits.

The expected age/gender traits also show up when it comes to distraction from thinking: "More than any other activity, drivers under 16 were observed thinking about their personal problems. The female drivers of all ages generally have higher percentage of drivers who were engaged in cognitive activities as compared to male drivers, while the male drivers show a decreasing trend with increasing age." Yet another danger from teen angst.

The report didn't offer any solutions to the distracted driving problem, so perhaps that it's fortunate that Google has jumped on board, announcing that it has been secretly developing cars that drive themselves (unlike the ones UC Riverside is working on, which aren't a secret). I've always said that this technology can't come soon enough, given its tremendous potential to improve roadway safety. Plus, I'm looking forward to being able to once again do more than just thinking in the car...

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