1. Study suggests hands-free talking and texting are unsafe

    June 27, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Utah press release via EurekAlert!:

    Cellphone DistractionUsing hands-free devices to talk, text or send e-mail while driving is distracting and risky, contrary to what many people believe, says a new University of Utah study issued today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    “Our research shows that hands-free is not risk-free,” says University of Utah psychology Professor David Strayer, lead author of the study, which he conducted for the foundation arm of the nonprofit AAA, formerly known as the American Automobile Association.

    These new, speech-based technologies in the car can overload the driver’s attention and impair their ability to drive safely,” says Strayer. “An unintended consequence of trying to make driving safer – by moving to speech-to-text, in-vehicle systems – may actually overload the driver and make them less safe.”

    Just because you can update Facebook while driving doesn’t mean that it is safe to do so,” he adds. “Don’t assume that if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel that you are unimpaired. If you don’t pay attention then you are a potential hazard on the roadway.”

    In a 2006 study, Strayer first showed talking on a hands-free cell phone was just as distracting as using a hand-held phone while driving, but the message has failed to fully connect with the public, with many people believing hands-free devices are safer. But now, with the backing of the AAA, Strayer hopes people realize they are risking their lives and those of others by using distracting hands-free phone, e-mailing, texting and social media technologies while driving.

    Strayer conducted the study with these other members of the University of Utah Department of Psychology: Joel M. Cooper, research assistant professor of psychology; and doctoral students Jonna Turrill, James Coleman and Nate Medeiros-Ward and Francesco Biondi.


  2. Study examines how to talk about “driving retirement”

    June 11, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Colorado Denver press release via EurekAlert!:

    Senior DriverClinicians often wait too long before talking to elderly patients about giving up driving even though many may be open to those discussions earlier, according to a new study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the CU College of Nursing.

    These conversations often don’t happen until clinicians see a ‘red flag’ which could mean an accident or some physical problem that makes driving more difficult for the elderly,” said Marian Betz, MD, MPH, at the CU School of Medicine and lead author of the study. “But what’s interesting is that most elderly drivers we spoke with said they were open to having earlier discussions.”

    The study, published last week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, involved focus groups and interviews with 33 drivers over age 65 and eight health care providers including physicians, nurses and physician assistants. The research was done at three clinics at the CU School of Medicine, and drivers were recruited from a local senior center and senior living community.

    The study found that while clinicians were often the first to raise the subject of elderly drivers handing over their car keys, they tended to wait for ‘red flags’ before bringing it up. They also reported that those conversations were usually “unpleasant.”

    Elderly drivers, meanwhile, said they were open to these discussions and generally saw their medical providers as “fair minded.” At the same time, the majority said they didn’t believe their providers were aware of their driving status or ability. The elderly also tended to see a smaller role for family members in conversations about whether they should stop driving.

    “Driving is linked to independence and asking for someone’s keys is very emotional,” said Betz, who conducted an earlier study on creating advanced directives to help drivers plan for future changes in driving. “Studies have shown that most people outlive their ability to drive safely by more than six years.”

    Betz said health care providers should start conversations with elderly drivers earlier, perhaps at age 65 when Medicare benefits kick in. That way, drivers can be thinking about it years before having to make the decision.

    “A primary theme that emerged from this study was the overall importance of improved communication about driving safety,” the study said. “Both clinicians and drivers supported the idea of regular questioning about driving as a way to make it an easier topic, as patients might be more receptive if they heard it once before.

    The researchers recommended a practice known as ‘anticipatory guidance’ in gently preparing elderly drivers, by monitoring physical and mental changes, for the day when they could no longer operate a vehicle safely. Doctors could include driving status in their patient questionnaires and talk about it during regular office visits, they said.

    “It’s not just about taking the keys, it’s about making plans,” said Betz, an emergency room physician. “Drivers in our studies reported needing help in preparing for that transition, including learning about transportation alternatives.”

    Issues surrounding elderly drivers have been around for decades, but with 10,000 baby-boomers turning 65 every each day, it has taken on a new urgency.

    “It is now a public health issue,” Betz said. “Driving is such an important part to living in America. Mobility is critical, mobility is freedom. But at some point most people will develop difficulties with driving, so we all need to prepare for it.”


  3. Study suggests hands-free talking while driving lead to spike in errors

    June 5, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via ScienceDaily:

    Cellphone DistractionTalking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

    A pilot study by Yagesh Bhambhani, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and his graduate student Mayank Rehani, showed that drivers who talk using a hands-free cellular device made significantly more driving errors — such as crossing the centre line, speeding and changing lanes without signalling — compared with just driving alone. The jump in errors also corresponded with a spike in heart rate and brain activity.

    “It is commonplace knowledge, but for some reason it is not getting into the public conscience that the safest thing to do while driving is to focus on the road,” said Rehani, who completed the research for his master’s thesis in rehabilitation science at the U of A.

    The researchers became interested in the topic in 2009 shortly after Alberta introduced legislation that banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving but not hands-free devices. In this study, they used near infrared spectroscopy to study the brain activity of 26 participants who completed a driving course using the Virage VS500M driving simulator at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

    Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive optical technique that allows researchers to examine real-time changes in brain activity in the left prefrontal lobe. Participants were first tested in a control condition, using the simulator to drive in city street conditions using no telecommunications device. They were tested again while talking on a hands-free device during two-minute conversations that avoided emotionally charged topics.

    The research team found there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition. A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin — a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication.

    “The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ‘distracted’ condition,” said Bhambhani.

    He added the results did not reveal a significant relationship between enhanced neuronal activation and the increase in the number of driving errors, most likely because the near infrared spectroscopy measurements were recorded from a single site, the prefrontal lobe.

    The findings are considered novel on a topic that is receiving considerable attention by policy-makers globally. Rehani’s contribution to the project earned him the 2013 Alberta Rehabilitation Award for Innovation in Rehabilitation (Student).

    The researchers note this is a preliminary study and hope that it can be part of a larger body of literature that can help inform policy-makers about the safety implications of using hands-free devices while driving.

    For Rehani, the work was part of rewarding academic journey at the U of A, which gave him opportunities to do research in a number of areas in neuroscience. He said he received outstanding support from both the faculty and colleagues at the Glenrose — including Quentin Ranson, the occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology lead who helped facilitate the simulator research.

    “To have a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is the only free-standing faculty of its kind in Western Canada, and to have a hospital like the Glenrose dedicated to rehabilitation, is amazing,” he said. “Both workplaces have such a collegial environment, with quality faculty and staff who are both working toward patient betterment. These institutions connect so well, it’s fantastic.”


  4. Study examines demographic profile of people who use cellphones while driving

    June 3, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via EurekAlert!:

    Cellphone DistractionIf you’re still using your mobile phone behind the wheel, University of Alberta sociology researcher Abu Nurullah likely has your number.

    More specifically, he can tell what statistical category you fall under. Using survey data from mid-2011—just months before Alberta’s distracted-driving law went into effect—Nurullah and his colleagues determined several characteristics of people who appear to top the risk scale by using cellphones while driving. The data are useful for police who have to deal with unlawful drive-and-dialers, and for policy-makers seeking to change offenders’ habits with ad campaigns.

    Nurullah says that although campaigns are an important piece of curbing the behaviour, social pressure from family and friends is also important.

    “I think the social influence is the key one. Friends, family, employers—they should be influencing others to reduce the use of cellphones while driving,” he said. “Effective enforcement of the laws should include not only fines for such offences, but also mandatory lessons on the dangers of cellphone use while operating a vehicle.”

    Driving demographics: Mobile phone use by the numbers:

    • Men outnumbered women by almost 10 per cent in phone use while driving. The largest proportion of offenders in both groups fell in the 35-to-44 age category.
    • The majority of mobile users had completed post-secondary education.
    • Among income brackets, the lowest income earners had the lowest level of cellphone use while driving. Rates of use increased with each income category, with those earning over $100,000 per year being the top users.
    • A slight majority of users indicated not being religious.

    “These stats can be used to identify the worst offenders for effective enforcement of laws that deter cellphone use while operating a vehicle,” said Nurullah. “Since males are more likely to undertake risky driving, it is expected that they would use cellphones more in driving situations.”

    Attitude adjustment: Social pressure and education critical

    The survey also highlighted people’s perceptions of the dangers of using a cellphone while driving. The majority of people—those who used cellphones while driving and those who didn’t—agreed that texting while driving was dangerous and that cellphone use was more likely to result in a collision. But a much smaller minority said they didn’t believe cellphone use is as dangerous as impaired driving.

    Though the legislation introduced in 2011 may have curbed some use, Nurullah says that a common levelling-off effect means other measures need to be put in place to convince itinerant talkers to hang up and drive.

    “There should be an emphasis on educating people about this, changing people’s mindsets about doing this, because it is risky,” he said. “There is no alternative to social pressure because it is more effective than legal enforcement. Social media campaigns can also be designed to make people informed about safe driving practices involving the use of cellphones.”

     


  5. Study suggests driving and hands-free talking lead to spike in errors

    May 29, 2013 by Ashley

    From the University of Alberta press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving_trafficTalking on a hands-free device while behind the wheel can lead to a sharp increase in errors that could imperil other drivers on the road, according to new research from the University of Alberta.

    A pilot study by Yagesh Bhambhani, a professor in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, and his graduate student Mayank Rehani, showed that drivers who talk using a hands-free cellular device made significantly more driving errors—such as crossing the centre line, speeding and changing lanes without signalling—compared with just driving alone. The jump in errors also corresponded with a spike in heart rate and brain activity.

    “It is commonplace knowledge, but for some reason it is not getting into the public conscience that the safest thing to do while driving is to focus on the road,” said Rehani, who completed the research for his master’s thesis in rehabilitation science at the U of A.

    The researchers became interested in the topic in 2009 shortly after Alberta introduced legislation that banned the use of handheld cellphones while driving but not hands-free devices. In this study, they used near infrared spectroscopy to study the brain activity of 26 participants who completed a driving course using the Virage VS500M driving simulator at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital.

    Near infrared spectroscopy is a non-invasive optical technique that allows researchers to examine real-time changes in brain activity in the left prefrontal lobe. Participants were first tested in a control condition, using the simulator to drive in city street conditions using no telecommunications device. They were tested again while talking on a hands-free device during two-minute conversations that avoided emotionally charged topics.

    The research team found there was a significant increase in brain activity while talking on a hands-free device compared with the control condition. A majority of participants showed a significant increase in oxyhemoglobin in the brain, with a simultaneous drop in deoxyhemoglobin—a sign of enhanced neuronal activation during hands-free telecommunication.

    “The findings also indicated that blood flow to the brain is significantly increased during hands-free telecommunication in order to meet the oxygen demands of the neurons under the ‘distracted’ condition,” said Bhambhani.

    He added the results did not reveal a significant relationship between enhanced neuronal activation and the increase in the number of driving errors, most likely because the near infrared spectroscopy measurements were recorded from a single site, the prefrontal lobe.

    The findings are considered novel on a topic that is receiving considerable attention by policy-makers globally. Rehani’s contribution to the project earned him the 2013 Alberta Rehabilitation Award for Innovation in Rehabilitation (Student).

    The researchers note this is a preliminary study and hope that it can be part of a larger body of literature that can help inform policy-makers about the safety implications of using hands-free devices while driving.

    For Rehani, the work was part of rewarding academic journey at the U of A, which gave him opportunities to do research in a number of areas in neuroscience. He said he received outstanding support from both the faculty and colleagues at the Glenrose—including Quentin Ranson, the occupational therapist and rehabilitation technology lead who helped facilitate the simulator research.

    “To have a Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, which is the only free-standing faculty of its kind in Western Canada, and to have a hospital like the Glenrose dedicated to rehabilitation, is amazing,” he said. “Both workplaces have such a collegial environment, with quality faculty and staff who are both working toward patient betterment. These institutions connect so well, it’s fantastic.”

     


  6. Study suggests brain can’t cope with making a left-hand turn and talking on hands-free cell phone

    March 4, 2013 by Ashley

    From the St. Michael’s Hospital press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving frustrationMost serious traffic accidents occur when drivers are making a left-hand turn at a busy intersection.

    When those drivers are also talking on a hands-free cell phone, “that could be the most dangerous thing they ever do on the road,” said Dr. Tom Schweizer, a researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital.

    Researchers led by Dr. Schweizer tested healthy young drivers operating a novel driving simulator equipped with a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator inside a high-powered functional MRI. All previous studies on distracted driving have used just a joy-stick or trackball or else patients passively watching scenarios on a screen.

    Immersing a driving simulator with a fully functional steering wheel and pedals in an MRI at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre allowed researchers to map in real time which parts of the brain were activated or deactivated as the simulator took them through increasingly difficult driving maneuvers.

    The researchers were able to show for the first time that making a left-hand turn requires a huge amount of brain activation and involves far more areas of the brain than driving on a straight road or other maneuvers.

    When the drivers were also involved in a conversation, the part of the brain that controls vision significantly reduced its activity as the part that controls monitoring a conversation and attention was activated.

    The research was published today online in the open access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

    Visually, a left-hand turn is quite demanding,” Dr. Schweizer said. “You have to look at oncoming traffic, pedestrians and lights, and coordinate all that. Add talking on a cell phone, and your visual area shuts down significantly, which obviously is key to performing the maneuver.”

    The simulation had the drivers making six left turns with oncoming traffic, which required them to decide when to turn safely. It then distracted them, by making them answer a series of true-false audio questions, such as “Does a triangle have four sides?” The MRIs showed that blood moved from the visual cortex, which controls sight, to the prefrontal cortex, which controls decision-making.

    “Brain activity shifted dramatically from the posterior, visual and spatial areas [of the brain] to the prefrontal cortex,” said Dr. Schweizer, a neuroscientist and director of the Neuroscience Research Program at the hospital’s Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.

    “This study provides real-time neuroimaging evidence supporting previous behavioural observations suggesting that multitasking while driving may compromise vision and alertness. ‘Hands free’ not does mean ‘brains free.’”

    Dr. Schweizer said his study needed to be replicated in larger groups and with various age groups and with people with known brain impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease.


  7. Study examines causes of road rage

    January 15, 2013 by Sue

    From the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health press release via EurekAlert!:

    driving frustrationCutting in and weaving, speeding, and hostile displays are among the top online complaints posted by drivers, according to a new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently published in an online issue of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

    Driver aggression is a major safety concern and researchers estimate this behaviour is a factor in nearly half of all motor vehicle collisions. Identifying the underlying causes and strategies for preventing driver aggression continues to be a priority.

    CAMH researcher Dr. Christine Wickens reviewed thousands of entries posted on RoadRagers.com, a website that invites drivers to submit complaints about unsafe and improper driving.

    Following a previous study evaluating complaints submitted to the Ontario Provincial Police, Dr. Wickens turned her attention towards the crop of new websites that ask drivers to describe the unsafe driving practices they’ve observed.

    “These websites can tell us more about what people are doing out there in the real world,” she explained.

    Dr. Wickens, a post-doctoral fellow with CAMH’s Social and Epidemiological Research Department, and her colleagues evaluated more than 5,000 entries posted on RoadRagers.com between 1999 and 2007. The team sorted the complaints — which consisted mostly of reports on driving in Canada and the U.S. — into various categories, including: speeding/racing, erratic/improper braking and blocking.

    The most common complaints involved cutting in and weaving (54 per cent of all complaints), speeding (29 per cent) and hostile displays (25 per cent).

    The research team also discussed how slighted drivers might feel compelled to retaliate or ‘teach other drivers a lesson.’ In some extreme cases, one reckless action can escalate into a hostile situation between multiple drivers.

    The next step in the research will be to examine how slighted drivers perceive the offensive actions of another motorist: Is the other driver in a rush, negligent, or deliberately aggressive? How do these different interpretations affect how we respond?

    With this in mind, Dr. Wickens advises drivers to work hard at keeping cool behind the wheel.

    Remind yourself to take a deep breath, stay calm, and do whatever it takes to bring your anger down,” she said.

    Dr. Wickens suggested that educating drivers during their training on the most common complaints might help them realize the impact of their actions and avoid these types of behaviours. The training could also teach drivers to be aware of their own responses associated with behaviours they are likely to encounter on the road.


  8. Study suggests using satellite navigation systems can reduce driver performance

    June 11, 2012 by Sue

    From the Lancaster University press release via Physorg:

    New findings from academics at Lancaster University and Royal Holloway, University of London reveal using satellite navigation systems can reduce drivers’ performance behind the wheel.

    The academics carried out a series of experiments where volunteers were set tasks by a computer which mimicked the instructions given by a sat nav. Their results showed that when people were following complicated sat nav instructions they tended to drive faster, with more steering variations, as well as being less likely to notice pedestrians who might be stepping out.

    Dr. Pragya Agarwal from Lancaster University said: “The results from our research have implications for the way these systems can be designed to be more effective and user-friendly in the future. Our research shows how people’s behavior while driving is influenced by the use of these navigational systems, which are becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

    “It is, therefore, important that we gain a more complete understanding of what specific decisions people make while using these systems, and which factors influence driving safety and behaviour, and to what extent.”

    Dr. Polly Dalton from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, adds: “What is interesting is that people were able to follow one simple instruction without any significant impact on their driving but as soon as they had to remember a compound instruction, consisting of two sequential directions, we began to notice a difference in their driving ability.

    “A lot of effort has gone into designing visually friendly sat nav devices but our research highlights the importance of the way in which the auditory instructions are given.”

    Three quarters of those participating in the experiments reported that they only used the sat nav’s visual display for clarification, elaboration or reminders of the auditory instructions which researchers say confirms the central importance of the auditory instructions to the majority of users.

    The academics say that whilst the spoken instructions alone are one of the safest ways to present navigational information while driving, it is important to acknowledge that the task of processing and responding to ongoing auditory information exerts cognitive demands.

    Dr. Dalton explains: “Our findings show that even auditorily-presented information alone can interfere with the task of driving. Studies of in-car mobile phone use have found similar results, however people often assume that following a sat nav device is easier than having a mobile phone conversation, but this of course depends on the exact level of complexity of the auditory navigation instructions produced by the system in question.”

    The research, funded by Nesta and the ESRC, is published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.


  9. Study suggests existence of gap between seniors’ assessment of driving ability and performance

    May 29, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Alabama at Birmingham press release via Newswise:

    A new report shows that 85 percent of senior drivers rated their driving as “excellent” or “good” during a five-year period although 25 percent reported having a crash. No participants rated their driving as poor, and less than 1 percent rated their driving as fair, which points to a possible lack of awareness of safe driving ability.

    The study, by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, analyzed Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration data from 350 older adult drivers ages 65-91 with a mean age of 74. The drivers were asked about self-reported incidents and state-reported crashes during a five-year period. They also were asked to rate their own driving abilities at year five. The study found that self-rated driving ability had no relationship with a previous history of adverse driving outcomes, such as crashes, other than receiving recommendations from physicians or friends to stop or limit driving.

    The study also found older men are more likely to have adverse driving outcomes, but that they were not more likely to be told by physicians and friends to stop or limit their driving.

    “A large debate in driving research is whether or not at-risk drivers can self-regulate, and thus possibly reduce their crash risk. This research indicates that, at least for this sample, a previous history of four adverse driving outcomes has no relationship with self-reported driving ability, thus possibly indicating a lack of awareness in regards to driving abilities,” says Lesley Ross, Ph.D., author of the study and assistant professor in the UAB Department of Psychology. “The majority of older adults can continue to drive safely well into old age. However, there is a group of older drivers who are at greater risk for crashing.”

    Driver license requirements for seniors vary by state. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety eight states and the District of Columbia require vision tests for seniors. Illinois is the only state that mandates a road test for those ages 75 and older. This means that all other states rely on seniors to self-regulate their driving.

    “Testing visual acuity is not enough to predict crashes. The screenings that show true promise in determining whether or not a senior is able to drive safely are performance-based,” says Ross. “Until that happens, we found that receiving a suggestion to stop or limit driving had the greatest impact on seniors self-rated driving abilities.

    “Clearly, there needs to be more open discussion among older adults, their family and friends, as well as physicians. Driving is essential to maintaining independence and mobility for many older adults, and discussions on limiting driving should not be taken lightly. It is a complex issue with real implications for older adults and their families,” Ross says.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there were 32.3 million drivers over the age of 65 on the road in 2008 and they expect that number to surpass 40 million by 2020. A recent study using data from the National Automotive Sampling System’s General Estimates System revealed older drivers experience severe injuries and fatalities at a higher rate than any other age group.

    Ross’ work is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Her co-authors are Joan E. Dodson, Jerri D. Edwards, Ph.D., Michelle Ackerman and the chair of the psychology department, Karlene Ball, Ph.D.


  10. Study suggests distractions increase crash risk even for driving pros

    May 17, 2012 by Sue

    From the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release via Physorg:

    The ringing cell phone you’re reaching to answer. The text message that demands a reply now. The GPS you’re trying to program as you’re frantically rushing to your destination.

    They’re just a few activities—among many—that divert drivers’ attention from the road and escalate their risk of having an accident.

    And, an accident can happen in an instant, says driver distraction researcher John Lee, a professor of industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

    “Studies dating back to the 1960s found the maximum time the eye can be diverted from a driving task without significant adverse effect is 1.5 to 2 seconds,” he says. “Attention to the road deteriorates the longer a driver looks away.”

    That’s the case even for professional drivers such as commercial truck operators, bus drivers, police, and street and highway department crews.

    The cabs of those drivers’ vehicles are chock-full of distractions: two-way radios, smartphones, GPS units, laptop computers, and an array of levers, knobs and touch screens that control equipment like plows and spreaders.

    This complex mix of technologies might be inevitable-but accidents are not.

    Proper technology placement and well-informed policies could reduce distracted driving. For example, in-cab controls should be easy to reach and drivers should be able to quickly complete each step of a task such as programming a GPS navigation system. If drivers need to read a map, do paperwork or use a cell phone, a policy could insist they stop away from traffic before completing the task.

    Training professional drivers to recognize distractions and the factors that influence their attention to the road also is an important strategy for combatting distracted driving. Drivers can learn to minimize the length of time they look away or do so at locations with fewer potential conflicts.

    “Some professional drivers know how to time their glances-unlike teens or other new drivers-although they cannot glance away from the driving task any longer than other drivers,” says Lee.

    In Sauk County, Wisconsin, police, fire, public works and highway crews annually use a driving simulator for 95 percent of their defensive-driving training. There, safety risk manager Carl Gruber says the simulator effectively replicates a variety of road and pavement types and weather conditions. It can run hundreds of scenarios with situations that highway department drivers encounter in a snow event or road project-for example, high-volume traffic, tailgating, reduced visibility or a blown tire.

    One advantage to the simulator is that Gruber can create complex challenges impossible to duplicate in on-the-road training. He recently programmed a test drive that required an operator to control the truck using only the steering wheel and gas pedal-without brakes-in simulated snowstorm conditions.

    And, the county updates its simulator training module every year to address any problems that may have occurred the previous snow season. “It allows us to keep employees driving defensively in a whole range of situations that put them or the public at risk,” says Gruber.

    In addition to their annual simulator training, Sauk County crews also attend the Highway Safety ROADeo sponsored Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corporation. It features a driver skills course, vehicle inspection training, a written exam and other programs, and enables drivers to try real-life truck maneuvers in tight situations and refresh their knowledge of safety issues.

    While technology can contribute to driver distraction, technological advances also could help reduce it. New Hampshire recently installed voice-activated technology in more than 1,000 police cars in the state. The system uses a single interface operated by voice or touch screen to control multiple in-car technologies from different vendors-and similar technologies could be available in the future for public works and highway applications.

    Also in development is a new generation of displays that project information from sensors onto the windshield glass, enhancing the driver’s ability to see objects in the road ahead. While the technology is improving, Lee says it has limitations because drivers can only see and process a few things at a time.

    Ultimately, he says, there’s no substitute for eyes on the road. “There’s always a risk when a driver looks away from the road since there is no certainty about when an incident will happen,” he says. “And this risk increases as the length of time they are looking away increases.”