Archive for December 10th, 2012


the all-too-human factor

Post from Harry Hutchinson:

Harry Hutchinson

Harry Hutchinson

Cars are safer now than they have ever been before. They are designed to protect the driver and passengers. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records show a significant decline in traffic deaths beginning in 1988.

Traffic fatalities increased by about 1 percent in the first half of 2012 to 16,290 people. If the trend continues through the end of this month, there will be many people lost on the road this year, but that contrasts with a grimmer toll. Until late in the last decade, it was considered a good year if fewer than 40,000 people died in traffic accidents.

Many of you probably have an idea of all this already, but I want to go over it first so nobody thinks I’m a pessimist whining about the end of civilization as we know it.

The point I want to make is that the human factor has a way of competing with the best plans of engineers.

A telephone survey polling 5,500 teenage drivers and parents found habits among both groups that lead to high levels of distraction when driving. The study was conducted for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc. by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Toyota issued a press release summarizing preliminary findings.

I spend a lot of time on the road, as a driver and as a pedestrian, so studies of driving habits interest me. There are quite a few interesting points in the results, but the one thing that really caught my attention is the inability to turn off the smart phone.

According to Toyota’s release, “More than half of teens (54 percent) report that they use a hand-held cell phone while driving, similar to the six in ten parents (61 percent) who report that they do so.”

And then there’s this: “A quarter of teens (24 percent) respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. Nearly one in three teens (30 percent) read a text or email once or more every time they drive.”

And OK, take some of that “every time they drive” as kids bragging: “Wow, I’m so popular I get texted all the time and everywhere, even when get into the car.” But if the true rate is as low as one in ten, that puts your kneecaps in unusual danger every time you cross the street.

So, I’m passing this along to remind everybody who’s about to cross an intersection: Put down your phone and make sure the driver coming up is paying attention before you head into the open. Or not. It’s your risk.

You can see the rest of the Toyota press release.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

December 2012

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