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Company argues text messaging is by far the biggest danger to drivers

DailyTech enjoyed an interesting presentation from Ford Motor Company (F) on Thursday.  The topic du jour was driver safety and Ford had plenty of things to say about what kinds of in-car activities really are safe and what ones aren't.

I. Talking Sometimes Prevents Crashes, Texting Dramatically Increases Them

Ford Senior Technical Specialist Louis Tijerina, a 20 year safety industry veteran who co-authored the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's first wireless telecommunications traffic safety report during 4-year stint with the agency, says that his company's exhaustive review of both internal and third party safety information reveals that the blame is often misplaced when it comes to cell phones and driving.

He points to numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation "Safety Facts" publications, which reveal that although wireless subscriptions have increased exponentially, crashes per 100 million miles travelled have actually declined in recent years.

The punch line, he says is that talking -- be it interacting with passengers, or on the cell phone has a mixed effect on driving safety.  In fact, in the case of drowsy drivers (e.g. truckers), talking on cell phones can actually reduce crashes.

This stands in sharp contrast to past industry (and government) perceptions.  And it seems particularly ironic given that many states and municipalities have implemented strict regulations where if you get caught talking on your cell phone while driving, you get a ticket.  If the studies Ford pointed to are accurate, these kinds of laws may actually increase accidents among drowsy drivers.

Mr. Tijerina says that evidence shows that so-called "cognitive distractions" aren't much of an issue, but physical distractions are.  Some physical distractions -- such as eating, adjusting instruments, putting a CD in your entertainment system -- are relatively low risk.  However, by far the most risky behavior is texting while driving.  Ford's compiled numbers show that texting while driving increases crash likelihood 23 times or more.

Texting while driving
While talking on the phone can reduce accidents for drowsy drivers, texting can increase accident rates up to twenty-three fold. [Source: Streets Blog]

Where past studies may have gone wrong is lumping texting and talking on cell phones together, when in fact these two behaviors have radically different impacts on the driver's danger level.

He comments, "Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel is not just an advertising slogan, it's summarizing research."

II. Ford Plugs Sync as the Ultimate Safety Feature

He says that the best case scenario is to have a hands free system which still allows you to engage others in coversation, keeping your mind active.  Of course this is an issue Ford may be a bit partisan on -- because its Sync provides just such a system.

"Many argue that there's no difference between hand-held versus hands free systems," says Mr. Tijerina, "That is patently incorrect.  There are advantages to voice-controlled interfaces."

He says that Ford realizes that some physical distractions -- such as interaction with a touch panel are inevitable, so it tries to minimize their risks.  Ford points to its participation in the Driver Focus-Telematics Working Group [PDF], which has published preliminary standards governing in-car touch panels.  

Those standards state that panels must be within 30 degrees of the road viewing angle (i.e. high up on the dashboard) and that interactions with the device must only last for spurts of 2 seconds or less.  Ford says its Sync system adheres to these guidelines.  For actions that take more than a "single eye glance" (2 sec.) Ford locks users out of the functionality, while driving.  Examples of such forbidden exercises include manual navigation destination entry, keyboard entry, using the movie player, and using built-in inner browsing.

Sync Safety
Ford bills Sync the ultimate safety feature, as it replaces physical distractions with cognitive exercises (i.e. voice commands). [Source: Ford]

If there's one take home message from Ford's presentation, it's that some of things we think might be distracting aren't really that bad -- or even can sometimes be a good thing.  That's a lesson that the government should bear in mind when deciding what kinds of rules and regulations to slap on motorists.  

Talking on your cell phone? That's not so bad.  Just don't send any text messages.

Bonus:
Interestingly, Mr. Tijerina says that there hasn't been much research into whether emailing while driving poses as much of a distraciton as texting.  Common sense would say so.  One can't help but wonder if this is where the recent correlation between service outages on Research in Motion, Ltd.'s (TSE:RIM) BlackBerry smartphones and reduced accident rates arises.

Updated Thur. 10/27/2011 5:50 p.m.:
To clarify, while ineffectiveness of cell phone talking bans seemed a natural conclusion to draw from the numbers Ford presented, Ford has not formally come out against a voice ban.  In fact, it supports bans on texting and on holding handsets.

That said, Ford staff agrees that the information that talking while driving can actually reduce accidents is an interesting phenomena and should definitely be considered further.

Source: Ford



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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Ryrod on 10/27/2011 5:27:20 PM , Rating: 3
The problem isn't that a ban doesn't help improve traffic safety and decrease congestion, the problems is that it is not enforced as much as it should be. Most states treat cell phone usage while driving as a secondary offense (whether or not the law states it as a primary offense). In the states that do actually treat it as a primary offense, most police officers just choose not to enforce the law.

I've seen it multiple times where people are driving slow/fast or not using their turn signals, etc. simply because they are not paying as much attention to driving as they are to talking on their phones.

Sync and other technologies like it are great, but the most at-risk individuals (high school kids and young adults) will never use it because their '99 Civic/Focus/Corolla/Cavalier doesn't have it equipped.




By ClownPuncher on 10/27/2011 5:42:38 PM , Rating: 5
Reckless driving is reckless driving.


By Ryrod on 10/27/2011 6:05:37 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, believe me, I agree with that statement. I think driving while distracted by texting or talking on the phone is reckless.

The problem is that most officers treat it as a secondary offense. They'll stop someone for speeding and when they walk up to the car they cite them for phone use because the driver was talking on the phone when he/she walked up. However, if they see someone driving down the road at slightly above or below the speed limit with a phone in their hand, most of the time the officer will let them go without even stopping them. This is largely due to police perception that enforcement of this law is unnecessary.

I think it's foolish for police to allow people to evade cell phone usage penalties because it's similar to the seat belt issue. When seat belt laws were first passed few even bothered. However, as time went on and people were cited for not wearing a seat belt, people started wearing seat belts to avoid the fines. In this case, cell phones present a much greater risk than seat belts. Seat belts may affect only the passenger, but cell phone usage affects everyone within a 100 yds of the driver, with risk rapidly increasing as distance from the violating driver decreases.


By ClownPuncher on 10/27/2011 6:35:29 PM , Rating: 2
It depends on your local and state laws. IIRC here in WA, you cannot be pulled over for just using a cell phone while driving.


By Ryrod on 10/27/2011 7:25:14 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, that's what I'm referring to when talking about secondary offenses. I know it was a secondary offense in WA when it was proposed a few years back, and I don't think it has been changed to a primary offense.

However, many states have it as a primary offense where you can be pulled over for that alone. However, most officers still do not choose to pull people over for it because they incorrectly treat it like a secondary offense, like WA does, even though they know it is a primary offense. This lack of enforcement is often attributed to police officers who place a value judgment on laws and view speeding (and other infractions) as much more dangerous than distracted driving, which many deem to be relatively harmless.


By therealnickdanger on 10/28/2011 9:39:58 AM , Rating: 4
I wouldn't say officers incorrectly enforce text/phone laws. For all they know, it could be a GPS device, MP3 player, or they aren't sure. Unless the driver is operating the vehicle erratically, there isn't much reason to pull the person over. It's the same thing with speeding - they might not pull someone over for going 63 in a 55, but if someone is swerving all over the place, then they will.

I argue that the problem isn't the officers, it's the politicians that enact unenforceable laws at the behest of their constituents. Distracted driving has come to the forefront of the traffic safety debate, so people are trying to go after the "low hanging fruit". Well, the bans don't work because they are nearly impossible to enforce.

If an officer pulls you over for using your cell phone, how does he prove you were talking or texting? You could easily delete your call history or sent text messages. They aren't going to launch an investigation and pull your records unless you got into a bad crash, they've got more important things to do.


By The Raven on 10/28/2011 1:09:34 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I argue that the problem isn't the officers, it's the politicians that enact unenforceable laws at the behest of their constituents.

=it's the constituents (aka citizens)

After all, they are the ones driving.


By Ryrod on 10/28/2011 3:07:05 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I wouldn't say officers incorrectly enforce text/phone laws. For all they know, it could be a GPS device, MP3 player, or they aren't sure.


I've talked to many police officers, including supervisors (like sergeants and lieutenants) who feel that cell phone laws are useless and by their demeanor towards the law, encourage officers to treat it solely as a secondary offense. So unless you are stupid enough to be on your phone when you are pulled over for speeding (or a similar primary offense), more often than not you are not going to be cited.

quote:
Unless the driver is operating the vehicle erratically, there isn't much reason to pull the person over. It's the same thing with speeding - they might not pull someone over for going 63 in a 55, but if someone is swerving all over the place, then they will.


The problem that I have with this kind of approach is that speeding is often governed by a "rule of reason," but cell phone usage is not. Cell phone laws are cut and dry, either you were using a cell phone or not. It's not like speeding where officers will say that driving 1-6mph over is reasonable, but 7+ is not.

I've seen many cases (yes, I know anecdotal evidence) where officers see people with a phone to their ear or texting on the phone, but choose not to do anything likely because that driver is not speeding or swerving between lanes. That is not how these laws were written (except in some states treating it as a secondary offense) and it is not how they should be enforced.

quote:
Well, the bans don't work because they are nearly impossible to enforce.


People said the same thing about seat belt laws when they were first introduced. Cell phone laws are and should be treated more like seat belt laws. Seat belts are almost as difficult to see as cell phones, but we still enforce seat belt laws. Officers just need to look for the signs of phone usage and texting like they would any other violation. If someone is holding their arm at a 90 degree angle with their hand near where their ear would be, then they are likely talking on the cell phone and the officer should investigate.

quote:
If an officer pulls you over for using your cell phone, how does he prove you were talking or texting? You could easily delete your call history or sent text messages.


He proves it the same way that he proves speeding violations, by testifying as to what he saw. Most laser and radar guns do not log speed violations and therefore, cannot be introduced as evidence. Often what it comes down to is what the officer saw when the violation occurred, such as the description of the driver, the speed readout on the gun, the make and model of the vehicle, etc. An officer is just as capable of saying, "Yes, I saw the phone in the defendant's hands and he was pressing buttons on the phone," as he can say "Yes, I saw the defendant driving down the road and the readout on my gun pointed at his license plate said 88mph."

Now I'm not saying that officers are lazy or incompetent, because I know a great deal of officers who do excellent work and put their lives on the line every day. However, I think the culture is what hurts the effectiveness of cell phone bans more than anything else. If we changed the enforcement culture surrounding cell phone laws, we might see more enforcement and less distracted drivers on the road.


By cjohnson2136 on 10/28/2011 4:07:28 PM , Rating: 2
+6


I agree with Ford
By CurtOien on 10/27/2011 7:58:46 PM , Rating: 3
Talking on the phone and eating both help keep me awake when driving and make things safer.




RE: I agree with Ford
By Manch on 10/28/2011 5:09:13 AM , Rating: 2
Same here. I travel a lot, so every now and then when i'm on the road I'll call a friend or my brothers to BS. It helps keep me awake and prevents me from getting into a lull where I'm not paying attention. As long as you're using a hands free device so you can keep both hands on the wheel, i see it as no different than somebody in the next seat, yakking with you to help keep you awake. I always make sure to get a good nights sleep, eat breakfast before hitting the road. It still gets boring tho when all you see is trees, and the car in front of you for miles and miles, unless you're driving thru Mississippi or god forbid Louisiana and theres theres absolutely nothing


RE: I agree with Ford
By Dr of crap on 10/28/2011 8:55:27 AM , Rating: 3
Use the speaker on your phone and see how much BETTER it is. So I can see the Sync system being useful.

Now if they could just make cell phones that the Sync system could interact with to block email and texting but allow talking, then we'd have fixed the problem!


RE: I agree with Ford
By Samus on 10/28/2011 9:25:49 AM , Rating: 2
I'll add that blasting techno while weaving through rush hour traffic really keeps me on the ball.


RE: I agree with Ford
By Dr of crap on 10/28/2011 10:03:11 AM , Rating: 1
Agreed, When the traffic is bad I need some good music to keep the stress down!


RE: I agree with Ford
By abhaxus on 10/31/2011 12:36:13 AM , Rating: 2
Would you describe yourself as driving way too fast in deine Porsche?


Bull$hit
By XZerg on 10/28/2011 8:38:00 AM , Rating: 2
I have been in couple of accidents (rear-ending) related to idiots who are on the phone. And many cases I have seen idiots on the phone who are trying to change lanes, turn, start or stop - cause near accidents either by: stopping/braking unnecessarily or taking too long to perform the job. Yes people are supposed to keep enough distance but when you have idiots like these in front forget about looking elsewhere other than them to prevent an accident.

Also I got beef with these idiots as my engine and brakes are wearing out faster because of their pathetic driving ability which phones amplify even further.

BTW the reason I used idiots to describe these people on the phone is that they are not comfortable driving normally or multi-tasking in the first place and yet they choose to screw around.

I bet many of you have seen or dealt with these sort of idiots. So no I really disagree with these results.




RE: Bull$hit
By Bostlabs on 10/28/2011 11:52:29 AM , Rating: 2
It's 'interesting' to be around these fools while on my motorcycle.

It's hard enough being seen on a bike as it is. Cagers for the most part won't see you even if they are looking at you. :)

I'm glad I've taken an advanced rider course.


Locking out functions can be bad
By roastmules on 10/28/2011 11:20:56 AM , Rating: 2
While driving a brand-new Toyota rental car lately, I was in the passenger seat and wanted to play with the new technology. I was locked out while my wife was driving. Why was I locked out - I'm not driving? It should be optional, or require a combo to unlock all functions while driving.

Even worse is that I selected something while the car was stopped, and when we got on the highway, it locked up - completely and would not let me do anything until we stopped the car. Crappy interface.




By cjohnson2136 on 10/28/2011 11:25:48 AM , Rating: 2
It is assuming that there is only a driver. The problem with it being optional is that a driver can just use while they are driving which really doesn't help any.


Sheeple
By Dorkyman on 10/28/2011 11:39:32 AM , Rating: 2
I have to laugh when I see yet another example of the sheeple needing Big Brother to herd them and watch over them.

For decades I have done very well for myself, thank you, using a hand-held cellphone (gasp!) while driving. I also am able to tune a radio while driving, and even keep an eye on the dog in the back seat.

I would expect that if my driving was erratic then the authorities would have every right to stop me and give me a ticket. In fact, I think there are already laws on the books for that very purpose.

I reject the idea that my hand-held phone is a menace. A risk to be managed, yes. And I also suggest that the more one makes the act of driving a sterile act the greater the chance of losing concentration or even falling asleep.

Or maybe Big Brother should propose some sort of cattle prod installed in the seat, periodically getting the driver's full attention?




RE: Sheeple
By Ryrod on 10/28/2011 11:49:22 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I have to laugh when I see yet another example of the sheeple needing Big Brother to herd them and watch over them.


This isn't big brother hand holding. This is "I don't want idiots who can't focus on driving hitting me and killing me." The reason we have these laws is not to protect the individual talking on the phone, but to protect everyone around from that individual.

quote:
For decades I have done very well for myself, thank you, using a hand-held cellphone (gasp!) while driving. I also am able to tune a radio while driving, and even keep an eye on the dog in the back seat.


Just because you may be able to multitask doesn't mean that the sixteen year old kid, that almost hit me last week when he changed lanes without looking because he was texting, can multitask. Everyone that uses a cell phone while driving is distracted, but ultimately it is up to the individual to decide how distracted from driving they want to be. You may choose to miss out on what your significant other is saying to you on the phone while driving, but there are just as many people who would rather listen to every word than pay attention to what is going on around them.

What makes the distraction even worse is the individuals, who hold the phone in their hand while driving. This automatically removes the use of one hand while driving and can cause, or intensify accidents because it creates a diminished ability to drive. For instance, let's say there is a crash 20yds ahead of you and you are talking on your phone that is in your hand. You attempt to swerve and miss the crash ahead of you, but can only turn your wheel one-third of the way because you only have one hand to turn the wheel. You hit the rear quarter of the crashed vehicle in front of you causing the vehicle in front of you to crumple further. Because of the excessive crumpling, the doors no longer open and the injured passengers are trapped in the crumpled vehicle. This is all because you had your cell phone in your hand and couldn't make a full turn of the steering wheel.

quote:
And I also suggest that the more one makes the act of driving a sterile act the greater the chance of losing concentration or even falling asleep.


I would agree with this if we were talking about a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere late at night or early in the morning. However, if you are checking your mirrors, watching your speed, and paying attention to the cars around you, you are unlikely to fall asleep, unless your were already tired to begin with.


Talking and eating DO help.
By CZroe on 10/29/2011 5:08:39 PM , Rating: 2
I literally had to talk to myself, sing, and babble to make it across the country on my motorcycle in one sitting. I could not have done it otherwise. In a car, many times I have found myself so tired that I keep swerving all over the road no matter how much I fight it. A quick stop at the drive through and I am good for the duration of the meal. Remaining otherwise occupied while driving or riding does wonders.




Blackberry outage
By masamasa on 10/28/2011 11:04:29 AM , Rating: 1
UAE reported accidents decreased due to the outage. I think it's pretty save to say, based on my first hand experience and probably yours, that drivers with a cell phone glued to their ear drive like idiots. I can't can't how many have nearly hit me, stopped in the middle of the road, or clearly were oblivious to what was going on around them.

Ban anything, but hands free altogether and save the rest of us from having to deal with these bumbling fools. If you want to talk while driving voice activation. This is no different than people parking in reserved stalls. Until you tow them they don't get the message and the problem doesn't go away. Same shit, different day.




There is a good reason why bans don't work
By Beenthere on 10/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By name99 on 10/27/2011 6:22:11 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, it's fun to call Americans morons, isn't it? You might want to add to your list of American flaws "shoot off their mouths without doing any research".

Meanwhile, in the real world...
http://handsfreeinfo.com/european-cell-phone-texti...


RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By Beenthere on 10/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By name99 on 10/27/2011 8:14:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
They would rather get killed or kill someone else than stop YACKING on their cellphone or texting while attempting to not crash.

Recently I was in Europe on Biz and I asked a number of friends and Biz associates if they have the same affliction in their country to cellphones and texting


You specifically talked about cellphone use in general --- eg your use of the term YACKING.
Now that I show that plenty of Europeans behave the same way as Americans in their use of cellphones, you want to start claiming you said something different.
It takes a big man to admit he was wrong. I guess that man is not you.


By Spuke on 10/27/2011 11:16:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
It takes a big man to admit he was wrong.
Did you ever stop to think he might be small?


RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By Omega215D on 10/27/2011 8:29:51 PM , Rating: 2
That's false because I read a lot of UK based motorcycling magazines that state the opposite. They have a pretty large problem with prats on their phones oblivious to the surroundings and junctions.

Read up Visor Down, BIKE, and any others based in the UK.

Now as for other European countries it may differ. Fins being the best drivers, and I say that as a US American (who happens to do rally as well).


RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By Beenthere on 10/27/2011 10:59:08 PM , Rating: 1
From firsthand experience traveling in five countries in Europe, I can attest that cellphone and texting is NOTHING like what I see in the U.S. In the U.S. it's of epidemic proportion and it's constant. In Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France hardly anyone I saw on the roadways was on a cellphone or texting and I covered thousands of miles.

BTW I did see many motorcycles over there and I simply did not see people on cellphones or texting though I'm sure there are some who do.

Where I travel throughout the U.S. people LIVE on their cellphone or text 24/7.


By Spuke on 10/27/2011 11:17:49 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
From firsthand experience traveling in five countries in Europe, I can attest that cellphone and texting is NOTHING like what I see in the U.S. In the U.S. it's of epidemic proportion and it's constant.
Yes, because anecdotes ALWAYS qualify as evidence.


RE: There is a good reason why bans don't work
By Omega215D on 10/28/2011 4:18:26 AM , Rating: 2
Okay, these are journalists who live in the UK, travel across several European countries to test out various machines, report back on it and their trip experiences while advocating road safety. They say London and other parts of Britain have problems with preoccupied vehicle operators and pedestrians. Just like in the US. Almost every major western metropolitan city will have these issues.


By Beenthere on 10/28/2011 12:13:05 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not saying people in Europe don't use cellphones or text or that there isn't a problem in "large cities".

What I'm saying is there is an EPIDEMIC in the U.S. where many people are obsessed with talking or texting 24/7 and they do this continuously while driving because they are ignorant and irresponsible. I did not see this in the five countries that I traveled nor did my friends and Biz associates who live in these countries see this type of ignorance and disrespect for public safety. It's far different to take a call or make a quick call than to be talking or texting continuously while driving as many braindead people in the U.S. do daily.

U.S. accident statistics show the problems with "inattentive driving", often the result of yacking on a cellphone or texting. IMO Ford's only concern is selling more cars to the braindead, not public safety.

Personal attacks don't change the facts or reality and are a violation of the forum TOS.


BAN IS USEFUL around here
By undummy on 10/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By JasonMick (blog) on 10/27/2011 5:36:22 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Maybe some cops are too lazy to do their job in some areas, but they're racking in the fines around here. We might even be able to balance the town budget on texting fines alone. Keep texting and driving. I like low property taxes.

Err... did you read the article? Ford was simply saying that talking while driving did not significantly increase risks, so bans on TALKING wouldn't be very effective at increasing safety.

They said TEXTING is very dangerous and were supportive of a ban on that.

Your comment seems to convey a misunderstanding that Ford was promoting texting while driving, which is flat out wrong. Just wanted to clear that up before anyone else got confused.


RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By Reclaimer77 on 10/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By jackstar7 on 10/27/2011 5:57:37 PM , Rating: 2
I thought you were more of a pro-market guy. Shouldn't people who innovate to improve potential safety while providing convenience and features promote that information?


RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By supamark on 10/27/11, Rating: -1
RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By supamark on 10/27/11, Rating: 0
RE: BAN IS USEFUL around here
By cjohnson2136 on 10/28/2011 9:25:36 AM , Rating: 1
Except how many of these "idiots" are talking on their phone while holding the phone compared to using a bluetooth or hands free system. Using a hands free system would be the same as talking to the passenger. Are you suggesting that a driver can't talk to his passenger?


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