Driven to distraction by technology

I've mentioned my shit box of a car pretty often here, usually in connection with trying to get someone to buy it. I had another flat this morning from a rim that is so rusty it doesn't hold a seal anymore. I thought I'd replaced it at the junkyard last week but it seems they replaced the wrong rim. That's what happens when you buy tires and rims at the junkyard. I'm not really in to cars, which is why I can keep driving my 14 year old monstrosity. It gets me from A to B, which is what I want. It doesn't have much hi tech stuff, although I like that kind of thing. My next car maybe.

It does have a radio, and I have a GPS (suction cup mount) and a cell phone, each of which I use rarely and the phone, never when I drive. I listen to the radio a lot, though, which reminds me that when my late uncle bought a car with a radio in it in the 1930s the family thought this was one of the craziest and most dangerous things they ever heard of. I'm reminded of it especially when I get passed at 65 mph on the highway by some asshole who appears to be either texting or dialing someone. "No hands" phones have not been shown to decrease the increased risk from inattention while talking on the phone as you drive. But it's not just phones. It's changing the radio station, fiddling with the GPS, turning up the heat or the air conditioning. Lots and lots of technological distractions in the car these days. Which is why I found this so interesting:

European research and the automotive industry have joined forces and developed a dashboard interface that can link and control the increasing information and vehicle controls systems currently emerging in the automotive industry.

Right now, dozens of research projects around Europe are working on new technologies to improve automotive safety and to develop intelligent vehicles. But all of these systems must then be added to the dozens of controls and user devices that are already found in a car.

Current in-vehicle systems like open door and seat belt warnings will soon be joined by lane assistance, hazard detection and a host of other information and systems for safe and efficient driving. (Science Daily)

The press release was about the EU-funded Adaptive, Integrated Driver-vehicle interface, or AIDE, a sort of attention demand control system for a car's attention demanding devices:

If the car is approaching a tricky junction, for example, it can hold all mobile calls and text messages, or suspend non-safety critical information.

The AIDE system can support many different functions, and help to ensure that drivers get the best possible use out of those functions, and that the system is safe and easy to use.

It works by sharing input and output controls among the various subsystems, such as collision avoidance or the mobile phone unit. It then coordinates information centrally, deciding the best course of action for both a given driving situation and the driver's current state.

If the driver is distracted, for example, the system issues warnings with greater intensity. AIDE also developed the interface so that it could adapt to different types of driver.

This is an EU initiative. I'm not surprised the US doesn't seem to have a comparable industry-wide effort underway. That's why the US auto industry is foundering. No imagination and no innovation equals no profits.

Meanwhile I'm still driving my 1995 Volvo and listening to the radio. Hold on a second. I'm coming to a tricky traffic circle and should probably stop blogging for a minute. Just to be safe.

OK. Where was I?

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While driving, how does the inattention from talking hands-free on a cellphone compare to the inattention from having a conversation with another passenger?

Has this been studied and is there a difference?

I can only speak from (painful) experience, but having another person in the car can cause accidents IF you look at them when you are talking. The only serious accident I was in was caused by a driver chatting with a passenger and not looking forward. I saw the whole thing in my rear view mirror as they came barreling towards me at 55mph.

Edmund: This was discussed some in the comments of earlier posts on this subject and it is a matter of some interest to those who are concerned with this. One suggestion is that conversing with a passenger includes additional cues that a phone doesn't and so is easier to parse, but as Gindy remarks, I'm not sure we know the extent to which other distractions affect driving cognition. The introduction of new technology into the car has made put the question into a new disciplinary venue and maybe we will get some answers.

You know, if you were in a country with actual road safety laws (like NZ), you wouldn't be allowed to drive a car with rust on it anywhere.

As for talking to a passenger containing other clues... well, the sound quality is clearer, so that's easier to parse, but if you're turning and looking to see the facial expressions and body language you're screwed anyway.

Expert input here.

The reason cellphones are distracting regardless of handsfree devices, is that the shitty sound quality requires more of your brain real estate to parse into meaningful speech.

Here's the experiment that will prove my point conclusively:

Test: Subject uses handsfree-equipped cellphone to have conversation with another cellphone while operating a reasonably realistic driving simulator.

Control: Subject uses landline headset to have conversation with another landline while operating a reasonably realistic driving simulator.

Measure: Driving errors per unit of time.

Hypothesis: Test will show significantly greater errors than control.

I'll call it at p less than .01 on this, and if I'm wrong, I'll buy pizza for whoever wants to bet me the results come out even.


As for "driving interfaces," pardon me while I throw up. Simplicity is good. All of this "computrification" of the automobile is a crock of horse manure.

What you need is a speedometer, gas or battery-charge gauge, miles-per-gallon gauge, oil warning light, a couple of other critical systems lights, and a radio.

What you don't need is to impress your friends that you can pilot a fighter jet down the freeway, with an interface that either requires so much attention that you plow into something, or an interface that runs on software that will inevitably develop bugs and plow your car into something for you.

Idiot-proof devices only breed better idiots, and there are plenty enough idiots in the world as it is.

This is just an anecdote because I don t have a reference, and read the report in a daily paper. So really it is just something to think about.

Studied were road car accidents provoked by under 25 drivers (accidents were some fault or other could be laid at their door) in France. (I forget exactly what comparisons were done and how they were carried out.) Seriousness (deaths, injuries, etc.) was related to: alcohol, night, country road (all well known) and - number of passengers. The picture is easily grasped; the lone driver or the driver with one passenger is not distracted by the 4-5 sometimes drunken mates rowdying or worse, such as fighting. Swiss papers warned that the policy of one abstemious person, the driver (here young ppl who go out clubbing or whatever will take turns not drinking) is certainly not good enough....

PP: Oh, I've been there before. Multiple times, going back many years on the blog. But I use words like that sparingly and only when I think they fit the occasion. If you know what I mean.