Paradise by the dashboard light (again!)

Just as you think it's ok to post...

Along comes more good stuff out of the blue related to the post you’ve just made.

First Apple wants us to be able to read our texts (iMessages) while driving.

Apple iOS takes aim at the car

Then, what looks like an excellent and accessible piece of research on the relative distractions and risks of non-driving tasks undertaken while driving. The research, by the AAA (the American Automobile Association) is available here: Report

With a quick digest here: Think You Know All About Distracted Driving? Think Again, Says AAA

The report doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know about driver distraction from academic research, but it does consider some very ‘real world’ technologies and applications and present them in a very accessible format.

The report, helpfully in my opinion, categorises distractions into three risk categories, mild danger, moderate danger and high danger. Mildly dangerous (category 1) are activities such as listening to the radio or a ‘talking book’. Note that these common activities still represent a distraction and carry a risk.

Moderately dangerous (category 2) activities include use of cell phones, both hand held and hands free. Hand held telephones are more distracting than hands free. Hands free telephones are about the same level of distraction as a conversation with a passenger (interesting and surely the topic of much future debate) which is also rated as moderately dangerous.

High danger (category 3) activities are associated with text, including reading, and speech to text systems. The report concludes that the assumptions made by car manufacturers that so long as the eyes are forward and the hands are on the wheel then the risks are acceptable are not warranted. The cognitive distractions associated with the technologies are present independently of the technology and are unacceptable while driving.

When you go back to the news item about Apple’s aspirations for smart phone integration and infotainment, and you consider statements such as “but the new feature will pair even more of the company’s offerings with vehicles’ in-dash displays – and keep drivers from glancing down at their iPhones” in conjunction with the AAA’s report, it shows just how far manufacturers are prepared to go in pushing the safety envelope and exposing us to risk.

What does this have to do with the process industries? Directly, not a lot I suppose. However for many, if not most, of us driving is the most dangerous activity we perform even if we work on high hazard plants for much of the time. It’s also a useful lesson about technology and the push for the ‘new’. Those companies that we might expect to have considered the safety implications of their product (Apple, Google, car manufacturers and others) seem to lose sight of the fundamental in pursuit of the technical edge. Perhaps we need to be a little more sceptical in our daily and professional lives when presented with the latest gadget?


Image credit: Paul Hudson via wikipedia Creative Commons


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About the author

Tony Atkinson

I lead the ABB Consulting Operational Human Factors team. I've spent over 30 years in the process industries, working in control rooms around the world, in the fields of ergonomics, control and alarm systems, control room design and operational and cultural issues such as communications, competency and fatigue. I've been blogging on diverse topics that interest me in the widest sense of 'human factors', all of which share the same common element, the 'Mk.1 Human Being' and their unique limitations, abilities and behaviours. I'll discuss the technical and organisational issues that affect safety and performance of these process safety operators and technicians and how this impacts control rooms and the wider plant. However learning comes from many places and you can expect entries about aviation, automotive, marine, healthcare, military and many other fields. Outside of work, I indulge in travel, food, wine and flying kites to keep myself moderately sane. Please feel free to post your comments on each post. Blog entries are posted with no set frequency. To ensure you don't miss out on the latest blog post, click the button below to subscribe to email alerts when a new blog has been posted.
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