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MyQTRMile takes a statistical look into the dangers facing today´s commuter.

By Mark Thayer

 

Are we safer today when driving our vehicles? I think one could say yes...indeed we are, but before answering that question check this out.

car pile up

MyQTRMile decided to do its own research on this highly visible topic this month. We have airbags, impact shocks, impact absorbing panels, shatterproof glass and the list goes on.

Aside from all the excellent advancements in automotive safety, the growing concern is over "us", not the cars we drive. Our behaviors behind the wheel have become nothing short of frightening.

Take for instance our cell phones; some people talk on them the instant they get in their mode of transportation as if it´s the perfect opportunity to catch up or take care of something they didn´t have time for during the day.

Let´s pick on someone else now, yes how about the guy that did not have time to sit and eat breakfast so he takes it on the road with him. You know that guy, the one driving a stick and trying to shift with his left hand across his body because his other hand has a breakfast burrito in it or maybe a cup of Starbucks.

Hey let´s not stop there, what about that Escalade with the Mom in it, the one that´s running late so she took her makeup bag with her. She defends herself by saying "well...I only put my face on when I am at stop lights". But really how many times have you found yourself behind her at a green light.

Man drinking coffe and talkning on cell

On a more serious note there are some recent movements as well as legislation to address these current trends. There is also more safety based technology being developed to circumvent our ever growing portable technologies.

Cellcontrol is just one of many to embark on this journey. Cellcontrol, makers of safe texting technology unveiled the results of a new study. This study indicates most people are aware of the dangers and risks involved with distracting habits like texting and driving, yet still continue to practice unsafe texting. Distracted drivers are supposed to be 23 times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.

Another positive survey showed most Americans support a nationwide ban on texting while driving.

72% of those polled however indicated that the passing of a law would most likely do nothing to change their "mobile phone" habits when driving.

MyQTRMile did its own poll and found 88% of them questioned admitted to sending a text message, email, surfing the web, or talking on the phone when driving despite all the awareness. This study was based on 100 patrons varying in ages from 16 to 66.

That revelation is sadly not real surprising, people generally are slow to change their behaviors but it´s still a disturbing statistic.

Texting, or SMS (short message service), is on the rise, 9.8 billion messages a month were sent in December ´05 and the same month in 2008 showed 110.4 billion. Undoubtedly, more than a few of those messages are being sent by people driving cars.

cell phones

Car and Driver did a study on reaction times using a light mounted on the windshield at eye level, meant to simulate a lead car´s brake lights. Wary of the potential damage to man and machine, all of the driving would be done in a straight line. A rented the taxiway of the Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport in Oscoda, Michigan, adjacent to an 11,800-foot runway that used to be home to a squadron of B-52 bombers.

Given the prevalence of the BlackBerry, iPhone, and other text-friendly mobile phones, the test subjects would have devices with full "qwerty" keypads.

When the red light on the windshield lit up, the driver was to hit the brakes. The author, riding shotgun, would use a hand-held switch to trigger the red light and monitor the driver´s results. A Racelogic VBOX III data logger combined and recorded the test data from three areas: vehicle speed via the VBOX´s GPS antenna; brake-pedal position and steering angle via the Pilot´s OBD II port; and the red lights on/off status through an analog input.

Each trial would have the driver respond five times to the light, and the slowest reaction time (the amount of time between the activation of the light and the driver hitting the brakes) was dropped.

First, they tested both drivers´ reaction times at 35 mph and 70 mph to get baseline readings. Then they repeated the driving procedure while they read a text message aloud. This was followed by a trial with the drivers typing the same message they had just received. Both were instructed to use their phones exactly as they would on a public road.

The test subjects then got out of the vehicle and concentrated on getting slightly intoxicated. They wanted something that would work quickly: screwdrivers (vodka and orange juice). Between the two of them, they knocked back all but three ounces of a fifth of Smirnoff.

We had them blow into a Lifeloc FC10 breath-alcohol analyzer until they reached the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content.

We then put them behind the wheel and ran the light-and-brake test without any texting distraction.

crash
texting and driving
Highway Crash

The results, though not surprising, were eye-opening.

Driver one´s baseline reaction time at 35 mph of 0.45 second worsened to 0.57 while reading a text, improved to 0.52 while writing a text, and returned almost to the baseline while impaired by alcohol, at 0.46. At 70 mph, his baseline reaction was 0.39 second, while the reading (0.50), texting (0.48), and drinking (0.50) numbers were similar. But the averages don´t tell the whole story. Looking at the slowest reaction time at 35 mph, he traveled an extra 21 feet (more than a car length) before hitting the brakes while reading and went 16 feet longer while texting.

At 70 mph, a vehicle travels 103 feet every second, and the worst reaction time while reading at that speed put him about 30 feet (31 while typing) farther down the road versus 15 feet while drunk.

The second driver the older of the two fared much worse. While reading a text and driving at 35 mph, his average baseline reaction time of 0.57 second nearly tripled, to 1.44 seconds.

While texting his response time was 1.36 seconds. These figures correspond to an extra 45 and 41 feet, respectively, before hitting the brakes. His reaction time after drinking averaged 0.64 second and, by comparison, added only seven feet. The results at 70 mph were similar: His response time while reading a text was 0.35 second longer than his base performance of 0.56 second, and writing a text added 0.68 second to his reaction time. But his intoxicated number increased only 0.04 second over the base score, to a total of 0.60 second.

As with the younger driver, the older one´s slowest reaction times were a grim scenario. He went more than four seconds before looking up while reading a text message at 35 mph and over three and a half seconds while texting at 70 mph.

Even in the best of his bad reaction times while reading or texting, driver 2 traveled an extra 90 feet past his baseline performance. In the worst case he went 319 feet farther down the road.

Even his two-hands-on-the-phone technique resulted in some serious lane drifting.

The prognosis doesn´t improve when you look at the limitations of their test. They had been using a straight road without any traffic, road signals, or pedestrians, and were only looking at reaction times. Even though the young driver fared better than the older one his method of holding the phone up above the dashboard and typing with one hand would make it difficult to do anything except hit the brakes. And if anything in the periphery required a response, well, both drivers would probably be screwed.

MyQTRMile would like you to not take the intoxicated results to be acceptable just because they´re an improvement over the texting numbers. They only look better because the texting results are so horrendously bad.

The buzzed younger driver had to be told "twice" which lane to drive in, and in the real world, that mistake most likely means a head-on collision. We also remind you again that they only measured response to a light-the reduction in motor skills and cognitive power associated with impaired driving weren´t really exposed here.

Both socially and legally, drunk driving is completely unacceptable.

Texting, on the other hand, is still in its formative period with respect to laws and opinion.

A few jurisdictions have passed ordinances against texting while driving. But even if sweeping legislation were passed to outlaw any typing behind the wheel, it would still be difficult to enforce the law.

Like most folks, they think they´re pretty good drivers. Car and Drivers results prove otherwise, at both city and highway speeds. The obvious but sometimes overlooked key element to driving safely is not just keeping your eyes on the road, but also keeping your mind on the road.

Text messaging distracts any driver mentally from that primary task.

So the next time you´re tempted to text, tweet, e-mail, or otherwise type while driving, either ignore the urge or pull over.

Legislation is coming your way if it has not arrived already.

In the state of Virginia, young drivers are not allowed by law to use cell phones, but when asked how affective the law is, one officer says the statute is difficult to enforce because it´s tough for them to gauge driver age.

AAA´s own study showed the risk of a car accident increases by 50% for people who text message while driving.

Four states are actively attempting to ban driving while texting (DWT), with Washington passing a ban on all drivers sending electronic messages while on the road. In 17 states including the District of Columbia, young or inexperienced drivers are banned from using cell phones, even using a hands-free kit, with emergency calls exempted.

These measures are in response to a plethora of statistics that suggest DWT is a growing danger.

Since the passing of the law in Washington drivers have been targeted with $101 fines if they are found guilty of DWT. Drivers in Oregon face a much bigger $720 fine this year if some state lawmakers get their way. More and more cities nationwide are jumping on the text-message ordinance bandwagon.

Is there a solution within reach without forced legislation?

Wouldn´t it be nice to find a solution to your texting requirements while keeping you safe on the road? The smart folks at Virtual Management, Inc. thought so and went about developing the Electronic Virtual Assistant (EVA). EVA offers a live transcribing service which can send and receive e-mail or text messages via voice mail.

The system reads all-important e-mail or text message back to you on a hands-free kit. It will also back up to its database any data given or received by voice over the phone for a period of 10 years.

For less than $20 a month, the EVA system allows users, through an online database, to identify a list of VIP e-mail addresses. Any e-mail or text sent from those addresses is automatically forwarded as a voice message to the customer´s cell phone. Users can then safely listen to them on a hands-free car kit.

 crashed car
Crashed car

It was not more than a month ago when a sad and tragic accident took place just miles ahead of me in my home town. The radio that day warned of a serious traffic jam at an intersection I was rapidly approaching. As I got near I did my best to avoid the bumper to bumper traffic and remember texting people to warn them of this irritating slow traffic.

I remember gazing off to my right where you could see stopped traffic for miles coming and going on both sides of the highway.

It would be later that night when I heard my local news telling of the incident. They went on to explain police had not determined the cause of death but suspected a handheld device such as a cell phone was involved.

This car ended up on the other side of a 4 lane highway that even had a turn lane in the center. The driver somehow managed to drift all the way into oncoming traffic, how were they able to accomplish this unless it was a case of "distracted driving".

The driver happened to be a young 18 year old girl described as a vibrant, smart and happy person. There is no doubt that a family mourns their loss still as I write this column, this incident happened just days into the Christmas holiday. MyQTRMile send its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Kassandra Kerfoot.

Kassandra Kerfoot

I went to bed that night feeling fortunate, why was it this person instead of me that wrecked? I had been sending texts to all my immediate friends to warn them of the traffic accident and to avoid it. I could have just as easily been distracted enough to have caused my own 4 car pileup. Whatever the reasons are I promised myself to resist the temptations from that day forward. As good a driver as I think I am does not make me immune from such a tragedy.

The behaviors and patterns of today´s drivers are what must change. You could be the most cautious and concentrated driver on the road but that is not going to protect you from the driver that´s not. Until there are serious consequences for portable devices in moving vehicles we will all be at some risk every time we take to our streets.

I wish it had not taken a young beautiful girls life for me to write this. One can always find a positive even in something as unsettling as this. Please join MyQTRMile in putting a stop to the use of personal hand held devices in moving vehicles. If you would like more information on how you can help or become involved please email us at saynotoDD@myquartermile.com