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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 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?


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