Distracted Driving Accidents Caused by Driver Overload

New York Times - April 7, 2013

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.



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