Observations of real-life driving behavior enables researchers to recommend life-saving strategies

September 21, 2012 by Sherri Box
Observations of real-life driving behavior enables researchers to recommend life-saving strategies
Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, stands with an instrumented vehicle. Credit: Jim Stroup

People do about as much while driving their cars as they do while sitting in their living rooms – eating, reading, talking on the phone. Some of these activities qualify as risky behavior. Dial your phone while watching TV and you may miss a weather alert. Dial while driving and you may crash.

Research published in Ergonomics and Design reveals the crash risk of various activities based on observations of drivers in instrumented vehicles. Even the researchers were amazed by the magnitude of the increase in risk. "Taking your eyes off the road to dial a or look up an address and send a text increases the risk of crashing by 600 to 2,300 percent," said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

The paper, "Estimating ," by Tom Dingus, director of the transportation institute; Hanowski,; and Charlie Klauer, research scientist at the transportation institute, has just received the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society's 2012 Best Ergonomics in Design Article Award, to be presented at the society's annual meeting, Oct. 22-26, in Boston.

Asserting that and performance needs to be understood in the context of the driving environment, the researchers used the results of several naturalistic driving studies. Traditional driver studies have been done on test tracks or with simulators, or have been based on crash studies based on interviews where "drivers and other are deceased, dazed, inattentive, or fearful," according to the research article.

"Naturalistic driving research involves the instrumentation of vehicles, including , for the purpose of precisely recording participants as they normally drive as well as in the seconds leading up to crashes and near-crashes," the article explains. Continuous data are collected for as long as two years.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"Near " contain all the elements of a crash except the outcome, which is averted by successful last-second maneuvers.

The researchers observed that the most dangerous tasks are visual-manual in nature. "You have to take your eyes off of the road to do something," said Dingus. "Most of the tasks require multiple steps to complete and multiple glances away from the road."

The tasks are also rarely associated with built in features that come as original equipment of the car or truck.

"The tasks that we should focus heavily on correcting are the newer cell phone tasks of texting, typing, reading, dialing, and reaching for a phone," Klauer said.

The researchers conclude with these recommendations:

  • Vehicle manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers need to focus on minimizing visual-manual interaction with devices and thereby minimizing eyes-off-road time. The article suggests interfaces that lock out features while the vehicle is in motion as well as the use of auditory or voice interfaces.
  • Manufacturers of nomadic devices should integrate via Bluetooth or wireless to interact seamlessly with an in-vehicle interface that has the features in the first item, or that simply lock out all the most complex features while a vehicle is in motion (as detected by GPS).
  • The public needs to be informed of the relative risks of the various tasks that are commonly accomplished in a moving vehicle.
Regarding legislation, the researchers wrote that "Texting bans are appropriate (and) handheld cell phone bans – particularly as applied to smartphones – may be necessary." However, "Total cell phone bans that include true hands-free voice input-output devices are unwarranted," the transportation research team said.

"Other devices, such as mobile data terminals in trucks, need to be seriously and immediately assessed from design, education, and legislative viewpoints," Hanowski said.

Explore further: Drivers ignore the risk of mobile phone use

Related Stories

Drivers ignore the risk of mobile phone use

December 11, 2006

A George Institute road safety study has revealed an alarmingly high rate of mobile phone use amongst Australian drivers. Published in the Medical Journal of Australia this week, the survey conducted in NSW and WA found ...

Texting increases crash risk 23 times: study

July 28, 2009

Text messaging behind the wheel increases the risk of a crash or a near crash by 23 times, and is far more dangerous than talking on a cell phone while driving, according to a report released Tuesday.

Administration takes aim at distracted driving

September 30, 2009

(AP) -- Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cell phones and handheld devices even behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared on Wednesday. Officials said Congress and ...

Would cellphone ban dial back 'distracted driving'?

December 21, 2011

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) — an independent federal agency responsible for investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety — called for a complete end to cellphone ...

Recommended for you

The ethics of robot love

November 25, 2015

There was to have been a conference in Malaysia last week called Love and Sex with Robots but it was cancelled. Malaysian police branded it "illegal" and "ridiculous". "There is nothing scientific about sex with robots," ...

Tandem solar cells are more efficient

November 23, 2015

Stacking two solar cells one over the other has advantages: Because the energy is "harvested" in two stages, and overall the sunlight can be converted to electricity more efficiently. Empa researchers have come up with a ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2012
Nothing will help this problem because most people are idiots. I have an IQ of 180, and it is my observation that every day, people get stupider.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.