Glass Tech — A new distraction or a benefit?

dis-enf-10-ever-officials_lo_res-post-72-enA recent Slash Gear article (click HERE for full article) suggests that a new traffic application for google “glass” device may stimulate a fresh round of discussion about the potential distraction of surfing the web through your eyeglasses as you drive.

The central question is would there be a material benefit to a “heads up display” built into your glasses that:

  • is less distracting than other types of dash board displays
  • offers enough of a practical benefit/advantage without undue safety risk

Evidently, to activate the traffic app, a beta tester of google glass need only say out loud “OK Glass, traffic” to pull up a map of their current locations with the google maps traffic layer superimposed.

This would let a motorist know how bad the traffic stall is in terms of distance from current location and distance to nearest cross street or exit ramp, etc.

The article sums it up nicely:

In question is whether a head-mounted display would prove more or less of a distraction from the road versus, say, a more traditional touchscreen in the center console, or even a head-up display projected onto the windshield.

Additionally, the author reminds us of another recent Slash Gear article; “Google lobbying against Glass driving bans” (Click HERE) which states:

Google is fighting back against threats that Glass could be banned from use by drivers, lobbying US state officials in the hope of more nuanced guidelines than an all-out block on in-car wearable tech. The safety of head-mounted displays like Glass made headlines last year, after one “Glass Explorer” early-adopter was ticketed for distracted driving after being pulled over for speeding and found to be wearing Google’s experimental gadget.

The Explorer in question later saw the charges dismissed by a California court. However, despite some suggestions, the judge’s ruling in January was not on the safety of wearables like Glass while at the wheel, but merely based on the fact that traffic police could not prove the headset had been active at the time.

According to Reuters, Google is lobbying across three US states – Delaware, Illinois, and Missouri – in an attempt to curtail proposed legislation that could severely limit how wearables might be utilized while driving.

The key argument the company has made, it’s said, is that any of the suggested laws would be premature, given the relatively nascent development of Glass and other such devices…

It remains to be seen whether glass and any similar devices would be considered “safe” to use while driving if so much prior work has been done to document how even hand’s free communications may be a material distraction while driving.  One would imagine that the visual and cognitive distraction of reading an electronic image while driving would be more distracting than merely carrying a conversation through “hands free” connections.

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Using cellphone as GPS Legal in CA

PEDESTRIAN-SIGN2According to the LA Times (click HERE) an appellate court ruled that “…Californians may use a cellphone to look at map applications while driving, even if apps are not hands-free.”

A driver from Fresno, CA had received a ticket for using his phone’s navigation system to find an alternative route around heavy traffic.  He fought the $165 ticket and initially lost his bid to have the ticket dismissed.  Fighting an uphill battle, he managed to get a sympathetic ear in superior court.  From the article:

Attorneys for the state had argued the law, which prohibits “using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking,” outlaws any use of a phone that is “hands-on.”

The judges disagreed, writing that such a broad interpretation of the law would lead to “absurd results.”

“Then it would be a statutory violation for a driver to merely look at the telephone’s display,” they wrote in the 18-page opinion. “It would also be a violation to hold the telephone in one’s hand … and look at the time or even merely move it for use as a paperweight.”

Naturally, the key to vigilant driving is to avoid all sorts of distractions like eating, shaving, applying make-up or reading maps, etc.  Distracted driving comes from three basic sources:

  1. Visual Distraction:  anything that takes your eyes off the road while driving
  2. Physical Distraction:  anything that takes your hands off of the wheel while driving
  3. Cognitive Distraction: anything that takes your mind off of your driving duties

EdiscoveryEach of these types of distractions is problematic, and drivers may be distracted to the point of crash by many different things.

The lesson in this instance is that while it may be legal to access apps on a hand held phone because the current law was written before phone apps existed (and was not described clearly to distinguish these as distractions) it doesn’t make it a good idea to fiddle with your hand held phone while driving.

In the same train of thought, it’s not a good idea to let your mind wander by listening to talk radio, but that’s also legal.

Summary

We each share a responsibility to drive with vigilance and discipline.  There may be times when we are distracted momentarily, and sometimes those distractions are necessary (receiving hand signals from a police officer or construction flagger who is directing traffic may distract us from cross traffic, but it’s a matter of juggling our focus appropriately)…..Nonetheless, we should work hard to keep these instances to a bare minimum and keep our focus on the road.

You tell his mommy

Study: Fatal Car Crashes Involving Marijuana Have Tripled « CBS Seattle

drugged driving 2Study: Fatal Car Crashes Involving Marijuana Have Tripled « CBS Seattle.

The American Journal of Epidemiology published a study on drugged driving (click HERE to see full report).  According to the abstract, there is increasing public concern over substance abuse affecting traffic safety results.

The study assessed trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in drivers who were killed within 1 hour of a motor vehicle crash in 6 US states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia) that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in such crashes.  Their findings?

Of the 23,591 drivers studied, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs. During the study period, the prevalence of positive results for nonalcohol drugs rose from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010 (Z = −10.19, P < 0.0001), whereas the prevalence of positive results for alcohol remained stable. The most commonly detected nonalcohol drug was cannabinol, the prevalence of which increased from 4.2% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2010 (Z = −13.63, P < 0.0001). The increase in the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs was observed in all age groups and both sexes. These results indicate that nonalcohol drugs, particularly marijuana, are increasingly detected in fatally injured drivers.

In short, fatal car crashes involving pot use have tripled in the U.S. during the study period.

“Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, and co-author of the study told HealthDay News.

Other comments and quotes offered in the CBS article included:

“This study shows an alarming increase in driving under the influence of drugs, and, in particular, it shows an increase in driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs,” Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, added.

“MADD is concerned anytime we hear about an increase in impaired driving, since it’s 100 percent preventable,” Withers said. “When it comes to drugged driving versus drunk driving, the substances may be different but the consequences are the same – needless deaths and injuries.”

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Of course an article that ran in Forbes (click HERE) suggests that the study may have been flawed and that testing for certain chemicals may provide “false positives”:

If “drugged driving” means operating a motor vehicle with any detectable amount of cannabinol in your blood, “drugged driving” inevitably will rise after legalization as consumption rises. But having cannabinol in your blood is not the same as being intoxicated.

Still, driving while impaired in any way endangers yourself and other drivers.  We each have a responsibility for traffic safety results and must be vigilant, sober drivers to continue to see improvements in crash rates.

rx-for-dui

Distracted Driving: Choosing to Ignore the Road

On June 26, 2009, a truck plowed into a line of stopped vehicles on I-44 about 90 miles east of Tulsa, killing 10 vehicle occupants and injuring six others, including himself.   

The driver wasn’t drunk or on drugs.  He wasn’t speeding. The driver didn’t attempt to stop.  The legal settlement was nearly $63 million.

Would you believe me if I told you it was caused by the driver texting? 

(It wasn’t, but would you be surprised if it had been?).

The National Transportation Surface Board (NTSB) determined that fatigue was the main issue (reportedly, the driver had been driving for close to ten hours and had only received about five hours of sleep the night before). 

Would the settlement have been the same if it had been caused by “Distracted Driving”?

Within the past week (10/13/2010), a school bus (with pupils on board) ran straight into a utility pole while the driver reached for his cell phone.  It required a call to the fire department to rescue the children since the downed wires were energized.  According to the news article, the CDL operator was charged with “failure to drive right” and “distracted driving”.  This will likely affect the fleet’s CSA BASIC for unsafe driving, and could contribute to a suspension of the driver’s CDL.

Distracted driving, while a legitimate safety concern, is fast becoming the latest “cause” for safety experts, the press, legislators and regulators to rally around.

Scope of the Problem

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 21% of police-reported crashes involve some form of driver inattention.  In 2008, they have estimated that nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving distracted driving.  It can be difficult to properly establish “cause” in distracted driving accidents, and the actual number may be much higher depending on how you interpret the data.

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) has conducted “naturalistic” studies where they analyze continuous video footage of CDL drivers.  They’ve concluded that truckers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to crash or get into a near-wreck than an undistracted driver.  This isn’t surprising by itself, but we don’t really know how many drivers actually text or how frequently.

Additionally, distractions can come from many sources:

  • Electronics such as cells, satellite communication systems, GPS devices, the radio, CD-players, etc.
  • Passengers; dropped items; spilled items
  • External distractions like billboards, other trucks – anything that takes eyes off of the road!

Defining the Issue

Distracted driving is any activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from their main duty of driving & increase the risk of a crash. There are three main types of driving distraction:

  • Visual – taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual – taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive – taking your mind off what you are doing

Experts may disagree on which of these is “most distracting” or “most common” but each presents an opportunity for disaster.

Distracted versus Impaired Driving?

I’ve wondered how to define the difference between distracted driving and impaired driving.  At first glance, I think I’d say that:

  • Distracted drivers can drive well, but choose to ignore their duty
  • Impaired drivers can’t drive well because they’re tired, drugged, drunk or ill, but choose to drive anyway.

In reality, neither should get behind the wheel, and both choose to endanger themselves and other drivers.

As I’ve continued to think about how these would be treated in court or during a settlement hearing, I’m not sure that they are materially different in how we’d cope with the aftermath of a collision.  In either case, the driver’s own negligence is suspect, and the management team could be investigated for negligent supervision.

Possible Solutions

The good news is that there are a lot of resources being thrown at the issue:  some of the early results look promising.

There are electronic solutions:

  • New software for phones and other devices which restrict functionality while embedded GPS says vehicle is moving more than 5 MPH.
  • Overrides are built in for “passengers” and “emergencies”
  • Allows inbound calls from priority phone numbers, others get dumped to voicemail
  • Some (many?) on-board devices are built to be “numb” while vehicle is in motion

But what’s the real issue we are confronting?  If the driver “needs” to be distracted while driving in order to get loads assigned by dispatch, then would the new electronic solutions really get used?  Most drivers that I’ve met would choose to maintain their livelihood by taking risks over possible safety infractions if they get “caught”.   As frustrating as that question might be, we have to understand whether we are contributing to the problem or eliminating it as managers.  To be clear, I’m suggesting that the cheapest, most efficient solution may not require a purchase order – if we can improve our communication strategies, it may cost nothing at all.

Many fleets are implementing company policies to attempt to address the issue.  Simple, enforceable and well written policies give drivers clear direction.  If it’s easy to understand and follow, there’s a greater chance of voluntary compliance; however, it’s important to remind supervisors to avoid contradicting the policy by their actions.  Management needs to be consistent in “setting the example” and be flexible enough to revise the policy if lessons learned justify it.

Legislation continues to be enacted around the country.  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety constantly updates their state-by-state maps for traffic laws.   Slowly, more states are defining texting-while-driving as a stand alone offence, but it remains a logistical concern over enforcement.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency (FMCSA) covers regulatory actions affecting most truckers and private fleet operators.  To date, the emphasis has been to clearly “ban” texting by CDL drivers.  The principal enforcement actions address both drivers and their employers:

  • texting by drivers = $2,750 maximum fine & “Serious Violation” for CDL holder
  • employers  who “abet” or enable drivers to text could face an $11,000 maximum fine

However, this begs the question, does legislating behavior really work? Early studies by IIHS in four states show crashes up slightly after bans on texting put in place (http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr092810.html).  This study doesn’t differentiate the type of vehicle and isn’t a reason to “allow” or “tolerate” texting – it just illustrates that a ban may not be the panacea solution some would hope it to be.  Ultimately, it may end up that the “ban” is enforced in one of two main ways:  as a post-collision violation assessed against the driver (reactionary) or as part of a Targeted Enforcement Action where roadside checkpoints look to catch as many violators as possible.

One of the most curious impacts of legislative and/or regulatory enforcement will be the potential impact on motor carrier’s CSA 2010 BASIC score for “Unsafe Driving”.  Getting a violation for texting will contribute to:  a driver’s CDL suspension matrix; and the carriers’ CSA BASIC for Unsafe Driving.

Summary

Distracted driving is a serious issue that demands our attention.  Drivers need to be vigilant while driving in order to minimize the chances of injury or violation.  Distraction, like impaired driving, could have very serious repercussions for a motor carrier if a collision leads to litigation.  There are many resources being poured into this problem area.  Some electronic approaches look promising, but as managers, we may have the ability to influence changes within our own organizations at no cost.  The failure to enhance our safety results will ultimately be brought back to us through fines and BASIC scores.