Distracted driving accidents can be caused by a myriad of events, none of which necessarily involve telephones or texting while behind the wheel.
Find out what can be done about driver workload management.
Heading south on Route 34 toward Jersey Shore beaches on a summer weekend, drivers confront a daunting array of highway quirks, not limited to jughandle intersections and baffling exit signs.
The simple act of turning left on Allaire Road in Wall Township, for example, is confounded by a traffic circle, where an attempt to head east casts the driver into a ballet of choosing the proper lane, looking for the exit and maintaining a high alert in the crush of beach-seeking vehicles.
Now imagine that during this encounter a low-tire warning flashes on the dashboard. Next, a chime alerts the driver that a text message — maybe important — has landed. Then the cellphone rings.
The overload of inputs, perhaps amplified by foul weather or a demanding toddler, presents a real challenge to the driver — and a danger to all road users. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distraction and inattention contribute to 20 to 30 percent of reported crashes.
Much as regulators and automakers have rushed to deal with the flood of distractions that invade the automobile — GPS displays, Internet radio, e-mail and even Facebook apps — there is a growing effort by engineers to build cars that gauge the difficulty of situations and recognize a driver in distress. Then the car would react, delaying all but the most urgent alerts, sending phone calls to voicemail and freeing the driver to focus on the task.
The study of driver workload management — some would point to the irony in this reaction to a situation partly created by automakers themselves — is progressing alongside the efforts of the planners who dream up new generations of infotainment features. A foundation of workload study is the Yerkes-Dodson Law, a theory developed in the early 20th century that plots workload and performance on a bell curve.