By on September 18, 2011

This is not a new video. It is from an Edmunds session in June. However, it had only 119 views since it was uploaded. This video is required watching when you talk about distracted driving. Or when you have kids. If you love them, give them Call of Duty. And you’ll be amazed when she talks about the “Schumacher of the road” part.

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33 Comments on “Myth: Drivers Need to Stay Focused...”


  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Fantastic video, and this is the first time I’ve come across it. Thanks.

    While this kind of research is doing a great job fleshing out the various nuances of attention and such, not all of this is new. It is important, however, because not only does it help flesh out some notions much better (and hence adding to our understanding of such things while also adding new discoveries), but it seems that some people (e.g. dogmatic skeptics) will only begin to listen and learn when such claims are backed by empirical research (a point that she made at the very beginning).

    Obviously one of the key problems here is getting people engaged with the task of driving. Engagement is a real challenge, and it is often only after someone has a real scare or similar dramatic event that they become so (e.g. a person who comes close to dying will sometimes become more engaged in living). I think this is due in large part to the general lack of awareness of just how dangerous driving really is (both to oneself and to others), and this is not something that is easy to convey.

    I like her openness to a kind of multi-pronged response to this kind of issue. Thus while it is true that we should perhaps be trying to get driver’s more engaged with the task of driving-well (e.g. set them the challenge of driving-well as a general task or goal), others (such as over-confident multi-taskers or people with some kind of attention deficit) may require a different approach that might focus more on the design of the car (e.g. getting the car to take over some of the responsibilities of driving) or some other such thing. Interesting stuff.

    p.s., I like playing video games as well, and will often play with my two young kids to try to help them approach such things with a healthy mindset (e.g., trying to maintain control over gaming rather than letting the gaming take control of you). Different games can help people learn, improve, or simply exercise different mental and physical skills (e.g., focused attention,divided attention, problem solving, and so on) and so can be very helpful when undertaken in a healthy manner.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      I like her openness to a kind of multi-pronged response to this kind of issue.

      The video was interesting, but I don’t see how much of it is applicable to driving. Her research focus seems to be video games and cognition, not traffic safety, and I suspect that a lot of the video game research does not apply well here.

      A video game is about the software. Take a standard box (computer), attach some controls to it, and the get the player to focus on the action on screen. The good players learn to read the field and react more quickly, which is awarded fairly immediately with a higher score, fewer lives lost and/or a win. The game helps them to improve through this sort of feedback being provided.

      She is suggesting that safety could be improved by changing the hardware of the car. But that does nothing to change the “software” of driving — the roadway as playing field — which cannot be pre-programmed by a designer who endeavors to create engagement for the driver. You can’t use the car’s technology to make the visual field of the road more exciting or interesting, and you certainly can’t use that environment to provide the immediate scoring gratification that a video game would provide.

      Also, the feedback gained from driving can be misleading. Drivers can make bad decisions repeatedly without suffering immediate consequences — they may get away with a bad act dozens of times before the odds catch up with them. But they often get the wrong lessons from the experience; every time that the bad action doesn’t cause problems, the driver views it as an example of his success and talent for risk taking, instead of realizing that he just got lucky.

      The research on traffic safety is pretty consistent: the primary problem is with risk taking. Except to the extent that the car can be altered to encourage less risk taking, I don’t see how modifying the car will lead to less risky driving. That leaves us with what we have now — nanny devices that can offset some of the errors, bad decisions and risks that drivers opt to make.

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        Risk taking is certainly something that has to be taken into consideration in issues like automobile safety, but surely it is but one of a host of contributing conditions, and isn’t sufficient to explain all that is relevant to that general issue. I sincerely doubt, for example, that all vehicle accidents are caused by high risk takers (as we normally think of them), and some may be better explained by other factors such as attention deficit of one sort or another. To reduce everything to risk taking seems to overlook all the other factors that might contribute to automobile accidents.

        I thought she was using the evidence taken from video games and cognition to highlight that efforts to improve driving and automobile safety might require different strategies depending upon the various abilities and deficits (e.g., attention deficits) of drivers as a whole. I thought her main point was that we should not think that there is a single strategy that is going to work equally well for all cognitive types, but that the over-confident multi-tasker might require a different set of aids or strategies than the performance-motivated action gamer.

      • 0 avatar
        ciddyguy

        Philosophil,

        I think that there is much more than risk taking at stake here and I believe it’s exactly what she was saying, but using gaming as a metaphor for those who can concentrate hard to get to the next level and multi-taskers can do a bunch of things, but not able to concentrate on any one for any length of time due to distractions, or simply allowing distractions to occur while trying to do a task.

        It’s one thing to zone out everything around you and simply concentrate on say, driving to the detriment of others and another when you can concentrate on driving, but being simply aware of everything around you but not letting them get in the way of the major task at hand, driving, which would mean, being aware of who’s behind/beside you via your mirrors etc.

        Overconfidence is when you think you are better at something than when you’re not and believe it so as to try and make it so, at least that’s one interpretation of overconfidence.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Risk taking is certainly something that has to be taken into consideration in issues like automobile safety, but surely it is but one of a host of contributing conditions

        It’s the primary problem. Distracted driving is a variant of risk taking, but it all comes down to people taking chances that they shouldn’t take.

        The problem with her thesis is that she is comparing one environment that is specifically designed to attract the user’s attention with another environment that is not. She then figures that a change in “hardware” can provide drivers with a solution, when the issues that she cites with videogames are specifically related to the “software” that can’t be altered by a master creator, namely the road. Likewise, the rewards system available in gaming is not available to a driver. These parallels are flawed.

        There’s a bit of mission creep in her work. She’s trying to take the lessons of one field of study, and then apply them to a currently trendy topic that doesn’t really fit.

        She’s essentially saying that one of the causes of crashes is inadequate reaction time. That is a thesis that has already been disproven by those who study traffic matters, so I don’t find it compelling.

  • avatar
    gettysburg

    Sounds like a pretty good argument for ditching all the “nanny” devices in cars and making a manual transmission mandatory.

    • 0 avatar
      steeringwithmyknees

      I’ve always thought that.

      Does anyone know if there are any studies out there comparing the safe driving habits of people using a third pedal vs everyone else? It seems like there should be. It seems like the insurance industry should know this.

      Then again, it also seems like people are far more likely to engage in risky/aggressive driving when they control the transmission)

    • 0 avatar
      DannyZRC

      It’s not an argument to de-nanny cars, nor is it an argument for manny tranny.

      Different people have differing attentional capacities, and some drivers need more stimulation (things to do) to maintain interest and attention, while other drivers are easily overwhelmed and need streamlined simple interfaces to help them cope.

      Perhaps, in a long view, drivers should be trained to have the enhanced attentional capacities of gamers, but the best use of that attentional capacity would probably be to interface with enhanced sensory equipment rather than managing internal car functions.

    • 0 avatar

      And ditching the distracting technology. It’s also another good argument for rotaries rather than traffic lights, and for otherwise designing roads to be somewhat more engaging.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        Just make sure that the planners keep rotaries or traffic circles because navigating a roundabout is a pain in the tuches with a large, trailer-towing vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Large trucks (lorries!) in Europe seem to be able to deal with them quite well, so it should not be a problem for a mere one-ton pickup truck with a manure trailer. (Manure is what most pickup truck drivers haul, right?)

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        @th009
        Well, I can’t find the accident reports but for a while the intersection shown in this .pdf had about 1 tractor-trailer a month go through the center of it and lord knows how many fender benders due to the area’s inattentive and/or ancient populace. The state plows hate it and I have yet to hear anyone say a kind word about it. A rotary or traffic circle would have been so much better for a main east-west corridor.

        http://www.tfmoran.com/TFM%20Newsletter%20Spring%202009.pdf

        Actually, here are some nice words: it is better than a system of traffic lights. Traffic flows far better than in a typical intersection. Unless, of course, there is a TT stuck in the center of it.

        Oh, and yes, some truck drivers do haul nothing but grade A cattle leavings.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        Trucks/lorries in EU-land are physically different. Cab-over designs, which are favored in most of the developed, urbanized world outside of the Americas and Australia, are much easier to drive in European traffic than long hoods on US semis and pickups.

        IOW, US vehicles to do the same type of work are generally longer and more difficult to drive in rotaries and roundabouts.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @mazder3, Given that fundamentally a roundabout is a traffic circle is a rotary, what difference is it that makes modern roundabouts “bad” in your opinion? Giving right of way to traffic in the roundabout? Something else?

        But the quality of driving skills, and awareness of how to drive through roundabouts, could use improvements in most places on this continent.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        Here’s my simple argument for roundabouts don’t work in the US.

        Dulaney Valley, Joppa and York.

        I think there’s some guys on here who know what I’m talking about.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        @th009
        Roundabouts are far smaller than traffic circles. Even large trucks have little problem with traffic circles. Compare above to:

        http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=43.149133,-71.006473&spn=0.002184,0.004823&t=h&z=18&vpsrc=6

        and this one is even better

        http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Keene,+NH&hl=en&ll=42.922516,-72.290726&spn=0.004384,0.009645&sll=43.149133,-71.006473&sspn=0.002184,0.004823&vpsrc=6&t=h&z=17

        I don’t mind roundabouts when they are done properly. I don’t mind the new one up in Concord, NH that eliminated a five way standard intersection and I didn’t mind the ones on South Golden Road in Golden, CO (run out of link space, sorry) but the poorly implemented ones in Peterborough, NH (there are more of them, the one on the main east-west corridor was just the beginning) left a bad taste in my mouth.

      • 0 avatar
        FuzzyPlushroom

        @mazder3

        I’m close to both Keene and Peterborough and agree – the two-lane circle on 101 is large and functional enough for its volume of traffic, and the only accidents nowadays are minor and seem to involve out-of-state people who aren’t used to them. The smaller one downtown, by the college, isn’t bad either given the lower speeds and traffic volume involved. I’m still not sure why they put one up on Court Street by the hospital, but it’s fairly innocuous.

        Peterboroguh, meanwhile… if you think the truck-bait roundabout by Shaw’s is bad, try the two inexplicable roundabouts at MCH! At least the one outside Shaw’s has the benefit of not requiring a traffic light, thus saving time for those attempting to leave the plaza.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        @FuzzyPlushroom
        I am convinced that the Parmalee Road/Old Street Road(OSR)/MCH entrance roundabout was specifically designed to stop trucks from going the length of OSR. When going towards Hancock, I can barely make the corner with my small mowing equipment trailer on. I am forced to take Parmalee rd. Add in the guardrails that are actually over the white lines and you have a poorly designed clusterfumble that adds 30 seconds to a minute of drive time to my accounts on Sand Hill Road. They were going to somehow put one in by the library/Sage house but last I heard that fell through, thank God. Typical of Peterborough though, home of closed bridges, a ban on drive thrus (except banks, of course) a ban on parking garages (bye bye nice forest and hills around MCH) undersized breakdown/parking lanes from Sand Hill to downtown which turns route 202 from 2 lanes to 1 1/2 lanes when there is a wedding or funeral, and rich folk who buy up land in the middle of roads and close them down, General Miller Rd, for example. And the new trees at Pine St (Harlow’s) that block the vision of anyone in a vehicle taller than a Subaru Outback…

        Sorry about the wicked local rant, B&B. Map of MCH madnesss here:
        http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=42.893125,-71.938788&spn=0.004386,0.009645&t=h&z=17&vpsrc=6

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      What do you mean by nanny devices? Like ABS? Or adaptive cruise control with lane monitoring?

      Personally, I’m a much safer driver in a manual than an automatic in more or less any kind of traffic. I’m less likely to let my mind wander too far on the highway and I’m much less likely to engage in stupid shit in suburban/city driving.

      • 0 avatar
        gettysburg

        I’d keep ABS and ESP, but the others you mention just seem to enable/reinforce poor driving habits.

        Not related to distract driving, but I also don’t want Tire Pressure monitoring. My wife’s VW R32 has it and it has yet to sense when a tire has gone slightly low. It’s only gone off when a visual inspection made it would have told you the same thing(i.e. a flat tire) Honestly how hard is it to check your tire pressure on a regular basis.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        I think if it’s your car in which you’re the singular exclusive or almost exclusive conscientious driver, then a TPM isn’t that useful. Otherwise, you start getting into the tragedy of the commons territory.

        TPMs are also useful if you start losing on a longer drive. It’ll let you know pressure’s low before things get really hinky. On an old pickup, if you’ve picked up a nail while you’re driving, that indicator will tell you to pull over to check your tire long before you’d figure it out when you back end starts sliding all over the place.

      • 0 avatar
        Signal11

        Also, removing “safety features” or “safety devices” is something that doesn’t usually happen in the normal course of events in any industry, even if you can prove the safety device is detrimental to safety.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Signal11, fortunately, that didn’t stop automatic seatbelts from going away.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Automatic seat belts were a transitional requirement for cars that didn’t have airbags.

        The goal wasn’t to increase the use of automatic seat belts, but to force the manufacturers to focus on standardizing airbags.

    • 0 avatar
      DarkSpork

      It seems that people that are comfortable driving a manual transmission are better drivers than those that aren’t, I am in no way convinced that it’s use greatly reduces distracted driving. Texting, smoking, eating, drinking are all things that are relatively easy to accomplish between gear shifts or while cruising on the highway.

      For me at least, what reduces distracted driving the most is how difficult it is to drive a given vehicle dependent on road conditions, environment, traffic, etc:

      If I’m driving a vehicle I’m not comfortable with, driving in dense, fast-moving traffic, driving in a blizzard, on ice, or on a twisty road I will most likely be constantly checking my mirrors, planning maneuvers well in advance with my hands at 9 and 3 on the wheel.

      As much as I try to be a safe driver, there is nothing engaging about driving my econobox (5 speed manual, no ABS or other nanny features) down a straight highway void of any traffic. Perhaps you may be the kind of person that can drive for hours without music playing or any other distractions as long as you have a unsynchronized manual transmission, no power steering, crank windows, etc; if you are give yourself a pat on the back, you’re better than me for it.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    A very interesting concept and while this is not a new idea, the fact that she even acknowledges that beyond the 2 extremes, there is a bell curve of people who stay focused on the task of driving and those who can not.

    That being said, making cars that dull one’s senses to the road and what the vehicle is saying isn’t helping people be better drivers outside of being less worn out at the end of a very long trip, or so they say/think to be the case.

    I’ve found that driving cars that provide at least SOME road feedback and are comfortable to be in for long hours, makes the drive actually more enjoyable and less tiring because I’m more engaged in my surroundings and what the car is doing and watching the gauges to ensure I don’t overheat etc when going over major mountain passes, such as the Sysciou mountains into California (although I went over that range around 9AM or so) but the Tejon pass into the Grapevine later in the day was another matter after going through the San Joaquin Valley in I think near 100 Degree heat.

    Saw a video last night over on Top Gear of 2 cars, the Nuevo 500 and the current one (Euro spec) and the guy doing the drives basically said that one of the things that makes the original car so good is how it forces you to engage in it, it forces you to be busy all the time, scanning the road, planning ahead, compensating for its 13.5HP (or was it a final 16HP?)2 cylinder motor etc as the early cars at least didn’t have a syncromesh gearbox so you had to match your revs in order to shift smoothly, all of that forces you to be engage with the car.

    Now, perhaps that’s a bit too much of a good thing for some people but a car that engages the driver more may well be less fatiguing and boring which then leaves the driver in a semi comatose state and thus not paying attention to his surroundings and his driving may be an answer.

    Which means, we also have to examine the proliferation of multiple infotainment systems, the use of touchscreens and pulling our attentions to their operations when a simple knob is sufficient and much more expedient to regaining one’s attention back onto the road ahead.

    That said, some technologies such as the USB port and a thumbdrive is a great way to minimize the need to change music in a fashion that is cumbersome and often causing a great deal of distraction while the driver hunts for the CD or tape and swaps them out and then finds a spot for the ejected media and that is where technology should be employed, this way, either by a few simple clicks of the steering wheel controls or a voice command, voila, the music is changed without any additional attention necessary other than a moment or two to execute the simple command.

    Now to make searching music MUCH easier via voice command so you can simply call up say, Never Can Say Goodbye, Gloria Gaynor and it’ll go right to it and begin playing.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    How will you ever get young drivers not to take risks? If they’re males forget it. How about that mom in the minivan who’s on the phone and doesn’t see me about to pull into traffic? Gals got to talk.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      How will you ever get young drivers not to take risks?

      Graduated licensing. There has to be a legitimate fear that excess risk taking = loss of license. That requires targeted enforcement and a system that can aid with that targeted enforcement, such as the “L” plates that new drivers in many countries have to display on their cars. Not a perfect solution, of course, but such regimes are effective.

      Raising the driving age would also help. But I doubt that you’ll find much appetite in the US for that.

      • 0 avatar
        mazder3

        Fear of license loss doesn’t stop people who don’t think. I know my buddies and I could have been busted hard more than once in our youth(and I didn’t get my license until I was 17) . Speeding, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, over .08, you know, “havin’ fun”. Then you mature a bit and go “Holy [mackerel], I could’ve killed someone!” That didn’t happen to me until I was in my mid-twenties. For some it doesn’t happen until they’ve killed someone or themselves. Just look at your local paper and see the list of 30-60 year-olds busted for driving under revocation.

        Unless there is more to that targeted enforcement than just yanking licenses, not much can be done in a wide open country such as ours where a car is always in need and people have easy access.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Fear of license loss doesn’t stop people who don’t think.

        No program can be 100% effective. But graduated licensing seems to work to reduce crash rates.

        Young drivers crash at disproportionately high rates, so it makes sense to target them. If there is a low-hanging fruit on the safety tree, they’re it.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      “How will you ever get young drivers not to take risks?”

      I think that the only thing that would work is a recording device that uses GPS and accelerometers to keep track of driving behavior, downloadable by parents via USB, with appropriate penalties for bad behavior. The basic components are not expensive, so if widely used the systems should be reasonably priced for most families, and many parents would even be relieved if govt or insurance companies required them for new drivers.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    It’s a very complicated issue.

    But there might be some merit in bringing the “video game” element into driving.

    For example, in some driving games you get points for recklessness. A lot of new cars have fuel economy gauges. I find when I drive them I work to keep the gas mileage as high as possible. Why not take it further? Incentivize staying within a decent range of the speed limit… staying within a certain distance of other cars… starting + stopping smoothly… staying within one’s lane, yadda yadda. These are the kinds of stimuli our generation has grown to know, so maybe it makes sense to integrate them into cars to make us better drivers. It’s a pretty novel idea.

  • avatar

    My tip – caffeine helps my focus when driving long distances. Coffee and or diet coke. It doesn’t help if I am overly tired though. Then it’s time to get off the road.


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