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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Distractions leading to worker injuries — beyond the vehicle

Distracted driving continues to be a problem on the highways, but researchers are investigating how distraction on the job (away from the vehicle) is affecting injury rates and contributing to safety problems in other types of environments.

The National Safety Council recently ran an article on this phenomenon titled “Distracted on the job — Identifying and Minimizing Worker Distractions can help reduce injuries”  A link to the full article is HERE.

The “key points” made by the article include:

  • Deadlines and pressure to meet production goals are some of the biggest on-the-job distractions, experts say.
  • Allowing short breaks and empowering workers to speak up when they observe distractions can help mitigate the problem.
  • Although employees may pay more attention to the job at hand and are able to better minimize distractions shortly after a near miss or a workplace incident, experts warn this will eventually fade.

Complacency is one of the culprits that can drive up injury rates, and the article covers tips to combat these distractions through breaks and other means.

The Wall Street Journal also produced a short video covering office distraction leading to lost productivity.  While the discussion is mainly about the office environment, the issues raised could affect people in a wide range of jobs and positions. (http://on.wsj.com/VS70iN)

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”.

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.