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A holistic approach to driver distraction

Posted: 11 Aug 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:driver distraction? traffic accidents? cellphone use?

Since Radiolinja launched the first 2G mobile phone network in 1991, cellphones have become both ubiquitous and the source of considerable controversy, particularly as an easily identifiable cause of driver distraction. In reaction, legislators have prohibited texting and the use of handheld (or even hands-free) phones while driving. Simply banning technology won't make the problem go away, however, because there will always be those who ignore the law, often attempting to conceal their actions and thereby making the behavior even more risky.

In this report
??Defining the problem
??The SA modeL
??Optimizing SA
??The driver's state

Though the relationship between cellphone use and traffic accidents is still being studied, there is little doubt that using cellphones while driving can be dangerous. It is important to note, however, that cellphones are just a small part of the problem. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in 2009 cellphones accounted for only about 5 percent of distraction-related accidents resulting in injury (albeit 18 percent of such accidents resulting in death; most of the distraction-related accidents that year were attributed to such activities as map reading, eating and grooming.

Defining the problem
Considering the statistics, we suggest that the best strategy for reducing distraction-related accidents is a holistic approach that addresses the larger problem of driver distraction. We should strive not to reduce single sources of distraction, such as cellphones, but to optimize the entire automotive cockpit based on driving conditions and the myriad tasks in which a driver might engage.

An excellent framework for this optimization is the concept of situation awareness (SA), which models important factors that contribute to driving performance, as well as the relationships between those factors. SA is defined as "the perception of elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future." This can be used to increase driver perception of significant objects and events and to model the impact on the driver of specific tasks in order to dynamically adapt user interfaces for in-vehicle devices. The military and aviation industries have used SA to understand pilot performance.

Fundamental to accident-free driving is awareness of the roadway environment. For example, the driver must notice that the stoplight has turned red, accurately track the location of approaching emergency vehicles and be aware that traffic has stopped just over the hill. A driver who has high SA is able to act promptly and appropriately to prevent accidents. Distractions interfere with the driver's developing high SA in a timely manner.

The SA model
Four basic types of distraction must be considered: visual, auditory, cognitive and biomechanical/physical. Visual distraction interferes with the perception of objects in the current situation (Level 1 of SA). For example, a driver who glances at a mobile phone on the passenger seat may fail to detect a car pulling onto the roadway, and this failure may result in an accident.

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