Can we be overwhelmed by technology?

Digital Trends recently published an interesting article (click here to see it) titled “Driving under the influence: Why car safety tech might actually be making us more dangerous behind the wheel”

The article thoughtfully examines how we drive, what happens when we get too comfortable in our cabin on “auto pilot” and what factors may be compounding the issue.  For instance, when we first started driving, we had a higher anxiety level — everything was new and we focused on judging the space around our car.  Learning to drive a manual transmission would also keep a young driver focused on “driving” and because they’re busy using their hands and feet to shift, they’re less likely to be using their thumbs to text while driving (interesting? check out this study — click here)

However, over the years, we get complacent for a variety of reasons:  we’re comfortable operating our vehicle, we’re familiar with the roads near where we live and typically drive, and we’ve learned that traction control, electronic stability control, ABS braking, airbags and such will protect us “if” we have a problem that is truly unexpected.

On this issue the article introduces an interesting concept:

A number of studies have already examined how humans react to different levels of stimulus while performing a task. The first is what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson law, which predates the mass adoption of the automobile but is still extremely relevant. Developed by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John Dillingham Dodson in 1908, the law basically states that the amount of stimulus offered by a given task is directly related to how much attention we will give it. Too much stimuli will overwhelm us and too little will cause us to become bored, neither of which is ideal when it comes to devoting maximum attention to driving. Back in 1908, and for some years thereafter, operating an automobile would often send people into the stressed end of the spectrum, but these days it is boredom that poses the greater threat.

Yerkes-Dodson law graph

Overall, the article challenges us to re-think our assumptions about how we drive.  I know a lot of people identify with the concept of slipping into “auto pilot” mode when on longer trips, or cruising highways.  Maybe there’s something to using technology to engage us and keep us focused, but at the same time, too much information (overload) can have an equally damning effect.

A second part of the equation is offered this way:

But there is another factor at work here, one which is harder to see in action. Fred Mannering of Purdue University has called attention to the fact that, although things like anti-lock brakes and airbags should be making us safer, accident fatality rates have actually been increasing. He theorizes that people feel so much more protected by their cars, that they are more likely to engage in risky behavior. This is related to the psychological phenomenon known as the Peltzman effect, also more commonly known as risk compensation. Basically, it says we engage in riskier behavior the safer we feel. It has been applied to cars in past, for instance when talking about seat belts, but the effect was much less evident when the safety equipment was something so basic. Features such as stability control are said not to have caused an increase in risky driving, since the effect only happens when the driver is aware of what the safety equipment is doing. But technologies like adaptive cruise control (to match the speed of the car in front of you) and lane departure warnings (audio visual cues given when you drift out of a marked lane) appear to have been designed specifically for those who would rather check their Facebook than their blind spot. [emphasis added]

Do you agree with the author’s assertion that we may be overconfident in our driving habits due to the newest advances in technology being applied to our cars and trucks?  I’ve heard this argument before, but I’m not sure whether I fully agree or not.

Take a second look at the source article and let us know your thoughts at our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/SafetyFirstSystems), Linked In group, or right here at our blog site.

We believe traffic safety results can be improved and that every driver bears a share of the responsibility to make things “safer”.

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The Dangers of Turn Signal Neglect

Whether changing lanes, merging, turning at an intersection, exiting a roundabout, or entering traffic from an acceleration lane, turn signals have a lot of utility for a safety minded, courteous driver.

Unfortunately, it often seems as though many drivers don’t know when to use their signals, or worse, don’t know how to use them.

One of the most common complaints received by SafetyFirst on our Hotline program is “failure to use signals” at roughly 13% of all reported behavior types. 

When you consider that: Improper Lane Change; Failure to Use Signals; Dishonor Right of Way; Weaving in Traffic; Failure to Stay in Lane; and Improper Passing are all somewhat related issues, then the total of these issues jumps to 47.74% of all behaviors reported during 2012.

Commercial drivers seem to have a problem with merging and changing lanes.  I strongly suspect that it’s a combination of issues:

  1. Drivers seemingly get ticketed only very rarely for failing to use their signals; therefore, any given driver’s attitudes about signals are reinforced (if the police don’t care, why should I ?)
  2. Managers rarely, if ever, have a pain threshold over the non-use of signals to warrant training meetings, etc. (see #1, above)
  3. Signal non-use just isn’t seen as a pressing priority by society.  (It fails to get the marketing weight of othermore pressing issues such as drinking and driving or aggressive driving, etc.)
  4. Drivers who are in a hurry may see slower moving vehicles as obstacles in their path.  The need to get there in a hurry can lead to swerving from lane to lane, and despite the obvious risk of failing to signal while driving aggressively operators seem to forget that the signals are there for a reason.
  5. Failure to clear the blind area next to the vehicle (each vehicle’s mirrors can only see select areas based on how they’re positioned – resulting in an area where the driver is effectively “blind” to other vehicles) increases the need to use signals as an additional indicator of an impending lane change, but drivers assume that the other driver will react to their vehicle moving laterally into the lane without the bother of signaling.
  6. Turn signals don’t impart the gravitas of a horn – you can’t release your stress through aggressive signal use the way you can with leaning on your horn (OK, so I’m being sarcastic here, but you’ve got to admit I may be on to something).

Consider the opening sentence of the abstract of a recent (4/16/2012) study (LINK) by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) – “The turn signal is a vital safety feature that is not only required to be built in as standard equipment on all vehicles, but their use by the driver in everyday driving is required by law.”  This makes signals sound pretty important, huh?

Now, take a look at the remainder of the abstract; “Since not all drivers are diligent at properly actuating turn signals in every situation, the use of the turn signal is less than 100%. However, despite the fact that turn signals are a crash prevention feature, no known study relating to turn signal usage rates is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nor from the Department of Transportation, nor from any University, nor from other private safety organizations.”  Wow, none of the key data gathering organizations have quantitatively studied the role of turn signals on crashes?  Yikes – that’s like driving blindfolded (well, maybe not, but it’s a significant oversight, isn’t it?)

As a counterpoint, American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) may have been overlooked by SAE while doing their background research.  You see, in 2005, ATRI published a study (and subsequent update in 2011) titled “Predicting Truck Crash Involvement”.  In this study, they specifically looked at violations received by drivers and projected the increased likelihood of becoming involved in a crash following the ticket.  Their number one issue from the 2011 data? 

A driver convicted of “a failure to use or improper use of signal” had a 96% increased likelihood of a crash.

The SAE study also mentions that they made direct observations of both drivers using signals correctly and failing to use signals when warranted.  They found that drivers who were executing a turn were using signals correctly 75% of the time and failed to use them 25% of the time.  Lane changing presented very different use rates – used 52% of the time and neglected 48% of the time.

The SAE study also asserts that there are roughly two million crashes annually due to this failure to use signals.

Signals are meant to convey a forewarning to other motorists of an intended lane departure or entrance (i.e. turn at intersection, merge, change of lane, etc.).  When signals are not used other drivers have less time to react, and this delay can affect various types of collisions ranging from merging/sideswipe to rear end collisions to head on collisions at intersections.

In a National Transportation Safety Board report, it states; “…if passenger car drivers have a 0.5 second additional warning time, about 60 percent of rear end collisions can be prevented.  An extra second of warning time can prevent about 90 percent of rear-end collisions.”  Using signals in advance of turns or merges gives following vehicles time to react and slow down.  By increasing their following distance, they have time to brake or avoid the vehicle in front. 

SAE’s paper makes the following conclusion:  if we assume that becoming involved in a collision due to the driver’s failure to use a signal is as rare as being struck by lightning, and we use the study’s neglect rates applied to the miles driven in the USA each year, then we could determine that up to 1 Million crashes would be averted if signals were universally used by all drivers.

There is no cost to use signals – they’re standard equipment.  There is a cost of not using signals – moving violations and crashes.   Would you commit to step up your use of turn signals the next time you get behind the wheel?

Don’t let Fido become a distraction – or a missile!

(LINK) Don’t let Fido become a distraction – or a missile!.(LINK)

Reblog from another site — what a great reminder about driving safely when you have pets on board your personal vehicle.  Not only to safeguard your faithful, furry companions, but to safeguard other occupants, too.  An unrestrained pet can be launched into the back of your head during a crash causing injury or death.

Related articles:

Drugged Driving: What is it?

NOTE: This article is part of a series investigating the definition of “impaired driving” as it occurs in society, traffic safety and driver safety professional networks.

Drugged driving, which can include a range of situations, seems to be on the increase.  I have to say “seems to be” since data collection and roadside testing are not as consistent for this issue as for other impairment issues such as drunk driving.

Drugged driving can occur from a number of situations:

  • use of OTC medicines,
  • use of prescription medications,
  • recreational use of illicit drugs,
  • chronic (repeat) use of illicit drugs,

Technically speaking any driver can use cold and flu remedies and drive, but if they’re involved in a crash, it may come back to haunt them in hindsight.  Many of these remedies plainly state that users should not drive withing a specified amount of time of using the medicine.

Prescribed medications can affect driving ability and it’s the duty of the doctor to make drivers aware of the possible side effects.  Per Federal regulations:

Title 49 CFR 382.213 states:

No driver shall report for duty or remain on duty requiring the performance of safety sensitive functions when the driver uses any controlled substance, except when the use is pursuant to the instructions of a licensed medical practitioner, as defined in Sec. 382.107 of this part, who has advised the driver that the substance will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

For regulated drivers (Commercial Motor Vehicle operators), there is effectively zero tolerance for illicit drug use.  So even though medical use of marijuana is legal in 18 U.S. states, regulated drivers are expressly prohibited from driving while under the influence of controlled substances; however  it’s possible that a non-regulated driver may drive while under the influence of marijuana depending on their state and local laws (most treat drugged driving as a zero tolerance policy, but not all).

For non-regulated drivers, most state laws include drugged driving with their drunk driving statutes, but some are beginning to separate the legislation to improve recordkeeping and statistics.  California is one of these states.  Specifically, AB 2552 moves each of the DUI categories – alcohol, drugs, and alcohol plus drugs – into separate sections of the vehicle code.  In other states, such as Washington and Colorado which recently approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use will have to decide how to handle drugged driving.  Early discussions have focused on determining milligrams of THC in the blood which is a parallel approach to measuring Blood Alcohol Content (although detractors claim that THC and alcohol impair people in different ways, etc.)

The impact of these initial steps to legalize recreational marijuana use on driving and crashes is hard to predict, but the increased availability may be an indicator that crashes from this form of drugged driving may rise.

A recent news report (click here) stated that;

“If a California company has its way, recreational marijuana users in Colorado and Washington state will one day be able to get their pot out of vending machines. “One day we envision these machines to be accessed, when it’s allowed, 24 hours a day,” Vincent Mehdizadeh, the founder and chief consultant of a subsidiary of Medbox that produces, installs and consults on the vending business, told NBC News. “

While firms look for additional ways to market marijuana to consumers, California is work to better understand the current scope of drugged driving.  The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) recently conducted a survey of drivers and found that:

  • more drivers tested positive for drugs that may impair driving (14 percent) than did for alcohol (7.3 percent). 
  • Of the drugs, marijuana was most prevalent, at 7.4 percent, slightly more than alcohol.

  • Of those testing positive for alcohol, 23 percent also tested positive for at least one other drug. This combination can increase the effect of both substances. 
  • Illegal drugs were found in the systems of 4.6 percent of drivers
  • 4.6 percent also tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications that may impair driving.

  • More than one quarter (26.5 percent) of drivers testing positive for marijuana also tested positive for at least one other drug. 

According to the press release (click here) from OTS, the survey was conducted in the following manner:

“Over 1,300 drivers voluntarily agreed to provide breath and/or saliva samples at roadside locations set up in nine California cities.  The samples were collected between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the peak times of impaired driving.  Breath samples were examined for alcohol, while saliva samples were tested for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), major illegal drugs, plus prescription and over-the-counter medications that may adversely affect driving.”

Summary

Drugged driving is a serious issue.  Crash reductions and traffic safety are every driver’s responsibility.  Being qualified medically, and being fit from a wellness standpoint, are critical to operating in a “safe manner”.  Employers may be uncomfortable with delving into the wellness of their employees, but ignoring it doesn’t work to prevent crashes either.  Education about the issue is a good place to start so that employees will be enabled to make better choices on their own about staying healthy behind the wheel.

Ultimately, employers who are already moving towards “zero tolerance” of the use of hand held cell phones and texting should be ready to institute similar policies against driving while buzzed on medications, OTC caplets or recreational drugs.

What do you think?  Join the discussion at our Facebook page, or our Linked In networking group.

About SafetyFirst — we are a driver safety firm offering best-in-class services to fleets throughout North America.  We have many imitators, but our programs have been repeatedly validated in head-to-head comparison to our competition.  Whether you are looking for a better coaching program, a way to translate greater savings from your existing telematics program, or to streamline your record-keeping processes for better management reporting (and less work), talk to us — we can help.

Possible Liabilities When Employees Use Vehicles in Your Business — BizFilings Toolkit

Found this article today, and thought it was a good recap for businesses that operate vehicles in the course of their daily operations. Take a look.

Link to Article — Possible Liabilities When Employees Use Vehicles in Your Business — BizFilings Toolkit.

Sleep Apnea: One Pathway to Drowsy Driving

NOTE: This article is part of a series investigating the definition of “impaired driving” as it occurs in society, traffic safety and driver safety professional networks.

Drowsy driving, sometimes called fatigued driving, has long been suspected of a great number of crashes.  Over the past several decades, greater study into the causes and effective treatments for sleep apnea have been completed, and now there is great emphasis on diagnosing and treating sleep apnea.

At Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s own website there are resources available, and a great overview of the problem:

“Sleep apnea is a major contributor to daytime drowsiness—a condition that could prove deadly for commercial truck drivers and everyone sharing the road with them. It is a condition where, during sleep, a narrowing or closure of the upper airway causes repeated sleep disturbances leading to poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness. Since excessive sleepiness can impact a driver’s ability to safely operate the commercial vehicle, it is important that drivers with sleep apnea are aware of the warning signs.”

At this site (click here) you’ll find resources tailored towards drivers, the industry at large and even tools like quizzes to test knowledge and awareness levels.

Statistics from the American Sleep Apnea Association report that sleep apnea affects 1 in 4 men and 1 in 9 women in the United States—accounting for an estimated 22 million individuals—with 80% of moderate and severe sleep apnea cases still undiagnosed.

Left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to a myriad of serious health consequences, including increased mortality and an increased incidence of hypertension, stroke, heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiac rhythm problems, type 2 diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease, nocturnal angina, hypothyroidism, or neurocognitive difficulties.(1-7) In addition, individuals with untreated sleep apnea are 10 times more likely to die from a motor vehicle accident compared with the general population because of impaired driving performance.(8-9)

Whether your fleet of vehicles and drivers are regulated or not, sleep apnea is a significant wellness factor that can affect more than just motor vehicle crash rates.  Take time to learn more about this issue and consider how you might share this information with your drivers.

Web sites that provide a more thorough review of sleep apnea conditions and treatment options exist.  You may want to conduct further research at:

Notes:

  1. What is sleep apnea? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sleepapnea/. Accessed May 23, 2012.
  2. George C. Sleep apnea, alertness, and motor vehicle crashes. Amer J Resp Crit Care Med. 2007;176:954-956.
  3. Obstructive sleep apnea. American Society of Anesthesiologists website. http://www.lifelinetomodernmedicine.com/Anesthesia-Topics/Obstructive-Sleep-Apnea.aspx. Accessed May 23, 2012.
  4. Yaggi HK, Concato J, Kernan, WN, et al. Obstructive sleep apnea as a risk factor for stroke and death. N Engl J Med. 2005;353(19):2034-2041.
  5. Obstructive sleep apnea. Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals Online Edition. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary_disorders/sleep_apnea/obstructive_sleep_apnea.html. Accessed May 23, 2012.
  6. Lin CM, Huang YS, Guilleminault C. Pharmacotherapy of obstructive sleep apnea. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2012;13(6):841-857.
  7. Marin JM, Agusti A, Villar I, et al. Association between treated and untreated obstructive sleep apnea and the risk of hypertension. JAMA. 2012;307(20):2169-2176.
  8. George C. Sleep apnea, alertness, and motor vehicle crashes. Amer J Resp Crit Care Med. 2007;176:954-956.
  9. Obstructive sleep apnea. American Society of Anesthesiologists website. http://www.lifelinetomodernmedicine.com/Anesthesia-Topics/Obstructive-Sleep-Apnea.aspx. Accessed May 23, 2012.
  10. http://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2012/December2012/Obstructive-Sleep-Apnea-An-Important-Wake-Up-Call