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Archive for April 29th, 2010

The Risks of Distraction

If you’ve any lingering doubts about what can happen to a driver distracted by a phone (hands-free or hand-held, from the brain’s point of view it’s essentially the same), consider the recent case of a fatal plane/helicopter collision over the Hudson River in New York.

As noted by the Wall Street Journal:

The board’s data reinforce earlier indications that a distracted controller, engaged in a personal phone call while on duty and juggling various tasks, failed to keep proper track of the small, propeller-powered plane. The controller, Carlyle Turner, later told investigator he didn’t see or hear radar-system warnings about an impending collision, the documents indicate.

According to a transcript released Wednesday, Mr. Turner was on a personal call for about 2 1/2 minutes. Five seconds before impact, he hung up by telling the female friend on the call: “Let me straighten … stuff out.”

That five seconds number struck me, for I had just heard, at the Edmonton conference, from a human factors researcher mentioning a figure noted in one study that the time between the onset of conditions that needed response and the crash itself was in most cases five seconds or less (which intuitively makes sense).

But the main point is that here was a highly trained professional, engaged in a personal call, which subsequently caused him to miss something that should have been on his radar, as it were — particularly as alarms were sounded. It’s likely his eyes were even on the vessels in question, as he realized, too late, however (owing to divided attention), he had to “straighten stuff out.” Now extrapolate that to the less highly trained drivers on the (more crowded) road, brimming with overconfidence, and you begin to see the problem. And yes, there were other factors behind the crash — failure to observe protocol by at least one pilot, lack of prescriptive glasses by another controller — but this is the point in implementing redundant safety systems: An error can be observed by someone else and corrected, the same way a non-distracted driver can (sometimes) compensate for a distracted driver.

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Posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010 at 2:37 pm by: Tom Vanderbilt
6 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.

2 Easy to Get, 2 Hard to Lose

I never really had a mantra for the Traffic book, the way Michael Pollan does: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

I tried to think: Drive safer, not so much, mostly walk (ok, that’s for New Yorkers). But you get the picture.

I noticed a few people responded to an offhand comment I made in the Streetfilms interview: “It’s too easy to get a license in this country, too hard to lose one.”

By this I mean our driver’s education and licensing system is in need of a number of reforms — we treat driving like a right, as in voting — and the newspapers (and courts) are filled with recidivist drivers. Read a random article about a fatal crash, and I’ll be you, that by about the sixth or seventh paragraph, you’ll begin to see examples of previous incidents or some underlying pattern of behavior that seriously undermines the “accidental” nature of any crash (e.g., the driver in the Taconic minivan crash). And yes, I am aware that many people with suspended licenses simply drive without a license, and yes, we need to look in many cases at the behavioral questions, yadda, yadda, yadda, but why we should continue to legally pander to people with a reckless disregard for human life is beyond me.

I was thinking of this again while watching, in Edmonton, a poignant talk by Melissa Wandall, whose husband was killed by a (repeat) red-light runner (the red-light law she’s worked for has just cleared the Florida senate; and despite what you often hear from the fringes of the right, most people, when polled, actually support such devices, when used judiciously). The offending driver already had 10 points on her license, a number of which kept getting bumped down by visits to traffic schools (the efficacy of which has been seriously called into question by several studies). Shockingly, she’s back on the road today.

Let’s go back to John Stuart Mill: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

It’s that ‘civilized’ bit I sometimes wonder about these days.

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Posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2010 at 7:56 am by: Tom Vanderbilt
19 Comments. Click here to leave a comment.
Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

For publicity inquiries, please contact Kate Runde at Vintage: krunde@randomhouse.com.

For editorial inquiries, please contact Zoe Pagnamenta at The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency: zoe@zpagency.com.

For speaking engagement inquiries, please contact
Kim Thornton at the Random House Speakers Bureau: rhspeakers@randomhouse.com.

Order Traffic from:

Amazon | B&N | Borders
Random House | Powell’s

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U.S. Paperback UK Paperback
Traffic UK
Drive-on-the-left types can order the book from Amazon.co.uk.

For UK publicity enquiries please contact Rosie Glaisher at Penguin.

Upcoming Talks

April 9, 2008.
California Office of Traffic Safety Summit
San Francisco, CA.

May 19, 2009
University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies
Bloomington, MN

June 23, 2009
Driving Assessment 2009
Big Sky, Montana

June 26, 2009
PRI World Congress
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

June 27, 2009
Day of Architecture
Utrecht, The Netherlands

July 13, 2009
Association of Transportation Safety Information Professionals (ATSIP)
Phoenix, AZ.

August 12-14
Texas Department of Transportation “Save a Life Summit”
San Antonio, Texas

September 2, 2009
Governors Highway Safety Association Annual Meeting
Savannah, Georgia

September 11, 2009
Oregon Transportation Summit
Portland, Oregon

October 8
Honda R&D Americas
Raymond, Ohio

October 10-11
INFORMS Roundtable
San Diego, CA

October 21, 2009
California State University-San Bernardino, Leonard Transportation Center
San Bernardino, CA

November 5
Southern New England Planning Association Planning Conference
Uncasville, Connecticut

January 6
Texas Transportation Forum
Austin, TX

January 19
Yale University
(with Donald Shoup; details to come)

Monday, February 22
Yale University School of Architecture
Eero Saarinen Lecture

Friday, March 19
University of Delaware
Delaware Center for Transportation

April 5-7
University of Utah
Salt Lake City
McMurrin Lectureship

April 19
International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (Organization Management Workshop)
Austin, Texas

Monday, April 26
Edmonton Traffic Safety Conference
Edmonton, Canada

Monday, June 7
Canadian Association of Road Safety Professionals
Niagara Falls, Ontario

Wednesday, July 6
Fondo de Prevención Vial
Bogotá, Colombia

Tuesday, August 31
Royal Automobile Club
Perth, Australia

Wednesday, September 1
Australasian Road Safety Conference
Canberra, Australia

Wednesday, September 22

Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s
Traffic Incident Management Enhancement Program
Statewide Conference
Wisconsin Dells, WI

Wednesday, October 20
Rutgers University
Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Piscataway, NJ

Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre
Injury Prevention Forum
Toronto

Monday, May 2
Idaho Public Driver Education Conference
Boise, Idaho

Tuesday, June 2, 2011
California Association of Cities
Costa Mesa, California

Sunday, August 21, 2011
American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Attitudes: Iniciativa Social de Audi
Madrid, Spain

April 16, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Gardens Theatre, QUT
Brisbane, Australia

April 17, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Centennial Plaza, Sydney
Sydney, Australia

April 19, 2012
Institute for Sensible Transport Seminar
Melbourne Town Hall
Melbourne, Australia

January 30, 2013
University of Minnesota City Engineers Association Meeting
Minneapolis, MN

January 31, 2013
Metropolis and Mobile Life
School of Architecture, University of Toronto

February 22, 2013
ISL Engineering
Edmonton, Canada

March 1, 2013
Australian Road Summit
Melbourne, Australia

May 8, 2013
New York State Association of
Transportation Engineers
Rochester, NY

August 18, 2013
BoingBoing.com “Ingenuity” Conference
San Francisco, CA

September 26, 2013
TransComm 2013
(Meeting of American Association
of State Highway and Transportation
Officials’ Subcommittee on Transportation
Communications.
Grand Rapids MI

 

 

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