Thursday, June 23, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
So, as I indicated in the previous post, there appears to be a bit of disagreement as to the relative distracting influence of driving while having that phone conversation. Is the phone conversation a distraction? Absolutely. Does the conversation take up over a third of the brain’s processing power? You bet it does, and the brain scans prove it. However, is it as big a bogy as texting or some of the other activities we love to do instead of just driving? Well, that’s what seems to be in question. This is the result of new traffic safety research called Naturalistic studies.
A Naturalistic study doesn’t measure brain activity, test drivers on a simulator, study old crash reports or ask drivers to describe how they think they reacted (or what they admit to doing) during a crash that happened to them in the past. A Naturalistic study shows, in real time, what is really happening inside and outside the car or truck or bus at the time of the crash (or near-crash).
Imagine watching, by means of TV cameras, 100 or more drivers in their vehicles as they do their normal daily driving for a year or more. That’s 100 years of real driving experience. You’re also watching cameras showing what the driver sees (or doesn’t see) out their front window, what’s happening all around the vehicle and, by means of a black box, all of the forces (braking and steering) being put on the car. SO, when heavy braking or steering occurs, the computer tells the researcher to look at this part of the recording and see what was going on at the time. Now the researcher really can see what was going on in the actual driving environment both inside and outside the car.
“Don’t the drivers end up performing to the cameras and driving more carefully,” you ask? Nope. After a very short time they completely ignore them and do all of the stuff they normally do, and I mean ALL of the stuff.
So, here is what the researchers found out about this distraction thing after analyzing what in essence is years of these real driving experiences. Vision is King. The in-car, or truck or bus experiences that take our eyes away from the job of driving are the most dangerous. Yes, the mental distraction is real, but the visual distraction is #1, or so these naturalistic studies show.
Yes, as I said, the mental distraction of the cell phone conversation is real, as is any other conversation. HOWEVER, it would appear that we adult humans are so good at the daily driving habits, that we naturally compensate for this mental distraction and do things like allowing more space around our vehicle or slowing down when we are so distracted.
But, you say, why then do so many crash reports indicate that someone was on the phone at the time of the crash? Well, if we asked the drivers, I’ll bet they would also tell us that they were breathing at the time of the crash. That’s why the folks analyzing the data from the naturalistic studies looked at what driver activities were common at the time of crashes (or near crashes), yet uncommon during the rest of the drive. These days, cell phone use during the drive is practically as common as tuning the radio or any other activity done while driving. What was most common during these events, yet uncommon during the rest of the drive, was texting and other activities that took the driver’s eyes off of the road. If the truth be known, many drivers using hands-free cell phones or Bluetooth devices still probably took their eyes off of the road to manually manipulate some part of the communication experience (even absent mindedly) at the time of the incident.
Yup, I know you think I’m talking crazy talk here. We all know cell phones used in the car, truck or bus are bad, right? Yet, cell phone use is WAY up while injury crashes are declining. No, I’m not defending the use of cell phones in the car, bus or truck. And I certainly know that new drivers must absolutely avoid using ‘em (and having other kids in the car) while learning to drive. All I’m saying is that we are just beginning to learn how to measure and evaluate how the technology that we love fits into the highly complex environment of the highway transportation system and human behavior. I throw this out there because I found it interesting and hope that you’ll add it to all of the other information that you use when thinking about your total safe driving experience.
Many years ago Jim Morrison (The Doors) sang “keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” Looks like he knew all along what the research was going to show us.
Friday, March 25, 2011
The second day of the 2011 Michigan Traffic Safety Summit began and ended with seemly conflicting data regarding the distracting influence of our pal the cell phone. That goes for both car divers and commercial vehicle drivers. So, I can now confidently tell you that your cell phone conversation is either extremely distracting or not any more dangerous than many of the more secondary distractions in the vehicle. Right, so what the heck does that mean? It means that I’ll do a more complete explanation of this issue next week. For now, here are my notes from Summit day two.
Oh, by the way: there seems to be no conflict whatsoever regarding the danger of texting while driving. It’s right on the top of the dangerous activities list. OK, back to the notes:
The estimate is that there are one million crashes per year that can be related to cell phone use in some way. A survey shows that 81% of us admit that we text while driving.
Multitasking is something that we seem to value culturally. We equate it to productivity, and is most likely a skill that many of us list on our resumes. However, studies of how the brain works demonstrate that multitasking is a myth. The brain does not multitask. The brain, within its limited range of processing power, handles tasks in a sequence. Also, this sequential processing of tasks calls on many different areas within the brain. So, even though the tasks are handled quickly, they are handled one at a time.
People that are proud to call themselves heavy multitaskers most often are taking more time to complete the individual tasks and are making more errors. When you switch from one task to another, your brain must reorient. This switching of orientation equates to fractions of a second that add up during the completion of multiple tasks.
Since we have this finite (limited) processing power available in our brains, when we multitask in the car our brains must filter out stuff so that enough processing power remains to handle all of the tasks. Some valuable ques that often find themselves filtered out include red lights, brake lights, navigation signs, obstructions, changes in the roadway surface, pedestrians, items entering the roadway and others. We look at them, but do not see them.
Items have to be seen or heard before they can be encoded into short-term memory. If they don’t make it to short-term memory they are not available to the brain for processing. So, we miss stuff either because we’re looking somewhere else, or because our brains are filtering it out. Either way, if we can’t process it we can’t act on it. One big problem is that we do not know the physical limits of our brain’s processing capacity, and it does not warn us. We can easily gauge our physical capacities such as how far we can run or how much weight we can lift, but our brain’s processing capacity is not similarly visible to us. So, we simply do not know when we are pushing the physical limits of our brain.
The challenges to response time and processing capacity are also perils for pedestrians. Urban walking is a cognitively demanding task. We’ve seen this challenge manifested by walkers obliviously crossing busy streets, colliding with other walkers or smacking into poles. In some locations, commonly smacked poles have had a protective foam barrier placed around them.
Further information about this multitasking issue can be found at the National Safety Council site at HTTP://thebrain.nsc.org
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established a new Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) system for tracking and evaluating the safety performance of US commercial truck and bus companies. Using roadside surveys, this Safety Management System (SMS) measures driver and company compliance based on seven parameters that include driver fatigue (hours of service), driver fitness, seatbelts, drug/alcohol, maintenance, cargo related, and prior crash indicators.
An intervention is triggered by poor performance data over a two-month interval. Businesses are grouped on the basis of how they compare to other US businesses that provide a similar level of service. (# of vehicles, miles driven, drivers, etc.). These SMS scores are available to both the companies and the public, and so they can be used when someone considers hiring a particular carrier to transport their goods or children. There are 730 Michigan based carriers that will be getting a warning letter in the first batch to be issued (26,000 nationally).
The FMCSA also now provides a pre-employment screening program that maintains two years of data related to commercial drivers. This is available for companies to use when making hiring decisions. Driver profiles are only released with their authority, and each search is $10.
There are now at least two new naturalistic studies of distracted driving among commercial truck and bus drivers. A naturalistic study is one where actual drivers are monitored by video cameras within their vehicles as they drive every day for many months or years. Metrics of vehicle reaction and performance are also captured at the same time. These are the only studies that document the exact activities and real world circumstances while a driver is operating within the highway transportation environment, and so they are extremely useful. At the same time, we are documenting the driver, the vehicle, the infrastructure and the environment. We’re doing these studies because, if we are currently having 33,000 deaths within the highway transportation system yearly, then we can certainly say that this system is not working. These studies seem to indicate that, when it comes to driving, vision is king.
These two large studies looked at 4,400 Safety Critical Events that took place while drivers were monitored. These included 21 crashes, 197 near-crashes, 3,019 crash-relevant conflicts and 1,215 unintentional lane deviations (translate that to: crossed the center line or ran off of the road). They looked at things like reaching, texting, dispatching, CB talking, phone talking, etc. The most dangerous activities were the ones that actually took the driver’s eyes off of the driving environment (if you don’t see it, you can’t process it). One study showed that texting in a commercial vehicle made the driver 2,300 times more likely to have a crash. That was followed by dispatching within the vehicle, writing in notebooks, using a calculator or looking at a map.
What these studies and a similar 100-car study seemed to document, though, was the comparatively lower risk that cell phone talking (particularly hands-free) posed. In the 100-car study, for example, the #1 issue was reaching for an object, followed closely by swatting at an insect. In both examples, it is the visual distraction that presents the issue relating to the crash. When eyes are off of the road for two seconds the risk of a crash is doubled. In one video taken from the 1000-car study you can clearly see the driver looking down briefly at their phone to dial it, and when they look back up there is a child on a tricycle in front of them. They have just enough time to stop.
Again, the studies would seem to indicate that vision is king, and that education along with enforcement will probably not be enough. The activities that take our eyes off of the road are the most dangerous. New technology is on the way to provide the driver with more help in detecting dangers within their operating environment. Devices will measure the distance and closing speeds between other vehicles or barriers. They will also measure how the driver is performing (are their eyes open).
Cell phone subscriptions have risen dramatically during the same period when we have seen a decrease in crashes (per vehicle miles traveled), and these new studies seem to be challenging our long-standing contention that the actual cognitive powers associated with the phone conversation are the real issue. For years we have said that hands-free is just as dangerous as any other kind of cell phone conversation while driving. Is this no longer the case? I’ll address the issues leading up to both of these theories in the next post.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
It’s the 2011 Michigan Traffic Safety Summit at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing. Attendees today heard from traffic safety advocates from around the country, brought here to expand our knowledge about national best practices, provide acknowledgement of Michigan’s successes and give us all a morale boost to keep at it. It’s all about saving lives and reducing injuries from a daily public health danger that most individuals take completely for granted and routinely disregard the risks of.
What follows are my impressions and notes from day one of the three-day event.
Enjoy what you have, appreciate your strengths and work to achieve your goals. Understand the personal Touchstone that you return to and which gives you strength (a spouse, a location, an avocation, a symbol, a belief). Example: I have challenges and changes that bring worry and fear, but I know that my wife is there to support me and be my touchstone even when I am far away.
We can achieve our goals and should not use the daunting time that it would take as a crutch holding us back. Example: you want to finish college while working but complain that it would take until you are 45. However, how old will you be in six years if you do not work to finish college? The result will be the same: you will still be 45, but not have met your goals. The jobs we do in the pursuit of reducing deaths in injuries is not often appreciated. You are appreciated, though.
Two is now the new one when it comes to properly securing the youngest humans in a car. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that all humans ride rear-facing in their child safety seats until at least two years of age. They should ride rear-facing until the upper rear-facing limits of their seats, but the minimum age should be two years. If you could see the crash test videos showing the stresses put on a little child’s neck, spine, head, internal organs when they are forward facing, you’d see why. The child is 75% less likely to be killed or be seriously injured if remaining rear facing. If we could tell you something today that would give you a 75% chance of reducing your child's risk of cancer you would do it in an instant.
Human’s bodies are not developed enough to withstand the forces of airbag deployment or impacting vehicle components in the front seat until they are at least 13 years old. Kids being picked up from school and placed in the front seat, often with a backpack on, are placed directly where the airbag will impact them for the greatest injury.
Seatbelts save lives, and airbags help reduce injuries. They must be used together.
The mindset for traffic safety needs to be aimed at Moving Towards Zero Deaths. If we use that as the goal it makes a much bigger difference in our thinking and planning. If instead, for example, we were to set the outrageous goal of reducing US traffic deaths by HALF in the next year we’d only kill about 20,000 people. How silly does setting a goal of killing 20,000 people sound? We need to aim for a zero goal instead of a percentage. This is a cooperative effort of all parties including local governments.
The traffic safety (or US safety culture in general) should change. Here is an example: When the US Air flight crashed into the Hudson River and saved all on board it was a huge headline that is still talked about. However, we easily dismissed the 100 people killed in traffic crashes that day. Instead we covered the 100 that didn’t get killed on the plane.
The safety culture associated with cars and their surrounding culture of speed and independent action can change, and a good example is the almost complete change in the public regard for smoking and smokers. In 30 years it has gone from a normal and pervasive aspect of American daily life to the status that it holds today. The same can happen with traffic safety if it is treated as a health issue instead of a transportation issue.
Every dollar spent on highways should be a dollar spent on safety. Ultimately, the highway is a factor in every crash. The Federal Highway Association lists the following as the primary factors contributing to fatalities: Roadway Departures including lane departures (58%), Intersections (21%), Pedestrians (11%) and Speeding (32%). Speeding does not necessarily mean exceeding the posted speed, but exceeding the speed for conditions present.
It is very hard to be killed by a traffic crash in a roundabout. The Michigan left turn has also been highly effective at reducing injuries from what is one of the most dangerous traffic maneuvers: the left turn. Rumble strips (center and curb) have helped reduce crashes no matter what distraction caused the driver to stray. Roadway planners want to make the roadway forgiving of mistakes when possible. A driving mistake should not kill you if it can be avoided by engineering.
In Michigan in 1940 there were 12 people killed by traffic crashes for every 100 million miles traveled. In 2009 that number was 0.91. Crashes in Michigan always reduced during US recessions, but that alone does not account for the huge reduction in crashes and injuries. In 1966 the Federal Highway Safety Act was passed, and since that time all aspects of traffic safety have combined to reduce deaths and serious injuries. The following are just a few:
- The car: collapsible steering wheels, tire improvements, shatter proof glass, steel beams in the doors, crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, ABS brakes.
- Highways: paved shoulders, crash cushions, breakaway signs, rumble strips, Michigan left turn, roundabouts, tree removal.
- Drivers: laws for seatbelt use, texting, graduated licensing, drug and alcohol use, speeding.
- Emergency Medical Services: cell phones, paramedics, 24-hour hospital emergency rooms, trauma departments, copter evacuation, OnStar.
- Government: state and federal agencies established to set unified traffic safety goals and strategies, and provide targeted funding.
Nationally, the emphasis on local traffic safety planning and budgeting is to take a proactive approach instead of reactive. Example: work across multiple counties to plan system-wide and low-cost countermeasures improving traffic safety over a wide area instead of reacting to a terrible crash at one single location. Rumble strips or reduction of traffic sign clutter are both good examples of this. The spillover benefit to changing one intersection only extends to the limits of that single intersection. These approaches should be data-driven.
75% of the US roadways are local roads, under the responsibility of 39,000 local governmental agencies. They are where 50% of our driving is done, but where 60% of the crashes take place. Local roadways are, therefore, over represented in crashes, but local elected officials responsible for making traffic safety decisions often have no traffic safety knowledge. There are now training programs in Michigan that have been tested and proven to be effective in arming local elected officials with knowledge to help them do two things: 1) make more informed decisions, 2) be better prepared to discuss traffic safety concerns with the public.
Discussing traffic safety measures with the pubic or as a public official is difficult due to the counterintuitive nature of traffic controls. Example: many people just think if you put up a stop sign, traffic signal or reduce the speed limit there will be fewer crashes, even though the opposite may happen. This new training helps with these concepts.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Today’s story is about bacteria, bending, breaking, adapting and the inertia of all existence (and New Years Resolutions of course). WOW, that’s deep. Well, if you look at the photo above, you’ll see that it is, indeed, deep and due to get deeper. What a great posting, eh: three sentences into it (four now), and you have no idea yet what my message is. Might as well keep going, then (nothing to lose).
They (whoever they are) say that success in survival is not really determined by survival of the fittest. More accurately, successful survival, personal safety and prosperity is based on the ability and willingness to adapt to changing conditions. Think flexibility or the ability to be flexible. Bacteria, mold, fungus and viruses are superb at this. If a bacteria can do it, seems to me that a somewhat higher life form, perhaps even a human, could do it as well.
I wonder if a mold spore could even begin to grasp the concepts of stubbornness, procrastination, I was here first, it’s my right, I’m too busy, I’m late, you’re in my way, I hate the cold, I hate the hot, I want to wear my pajama bottoms to drive to the store even though it’s freezing cold out, yes I know I need to walk more carefully but I don’t want to look like an old man, I always take this route to work, I’ll look like a dork if I do that, do you know how long that would take to do, this is how I’ve always done it, that’ll mean going backwards a bit, that’ll mean giving in. Y’know, I’ll bet that the mold spore would have trouble with those concepts even if we showed it a colorful PowerPoint slide program, passed a law forcing it to understand or put up some new signs directing it.
Obviously the mold spore (we’ll call it Mo for now), being such a lower form of life, just can’t think through these advanced ideas. All Mo seems to know is: if my environment changes and there is nothing I can do to fix that, then I’ll have to adapt or perish and I’d better just get started now. Actually, Mo is just a spore, and so the thought pattern is probably more like: change exist, me change now too.
That’s a pretty simple thought for a pretty simple organism.
It’s been very windy around here this past couple of months. Watching the trees bend with the wind reminded me that we (the high life forms) have developed lots of much more complex phrases and ideas to remind us of what Mo already knows. They follow along the lines of: bend but not break, go with the flow, a stitch in time saves nine, nothing is as constant as change, enjoyment comes from the ride and not necessarily the destination, you have to give and give in order to win the game, and win the battle but lose the war. And then, of course, the prayer that ends with knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t.
When I’m not busy looking for a new job I have a bit of time to look around at the world in motion. Have you noticed the world in motion? It’s everywhere. It’s the inertia of everything there is. I’m sitting at the tire store waiting for my oil change, and around me I see people walking in and out of the door, cars zipping down M-37 in both directions, the trees blowing, snow falling, clerks picking up the phone, the second hand on my watch sweeping, the sky dimming because the earth is rotating and the battery indicator on my computer falling, just to name a few. I’m thinking that there is no way that I can ever hope to press against this constant inertia of everything and end up winning my own war. I’m going to yield to what is and go with the flow.
Remember the photo of those snow covered cones at the top of the page (a thousand words ago)? Those are there to protect kids in an area near one of the local elementary schools. They’re still there, even though the snow is covering most of them. Yet, I know full well that some drivers will use the fact that these lame traffic control devices are obscured as an excuse to ignore them and zip through or park wherever. Actually, they’ll ignore many if other warning signs of their changed environment and just press on against what is. Somewhere today that pressure being exerted against the immovable force of what is will surely injure someone needlessly.
It’s a good time to remember (yep, it’s resolution time) that many, if not most, accidental injuries are predictable and preventable. Let’s resolve to prevent some of the injuries that could befall our families this year by bending a bit to the predictable force or what is.