In the digital age, an increased desire for constant online connection has created safety hazards for drivers on the road. It’s especially top of mind during the month of April, which is Distracted Driver Awareness Month, but Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) researcher, Charlie Klauer says that technology can also be part of the solution.
According to VTTI, the top distractions are inattention due to fatigue and texting, particularly by inexperienced drivers. Klauer, a research scientist and leader within the Division of Vehicle, Driver, & System Safety, says the emergence of modern technology has certainly had an impact on our driver experience and safety. Klauer explains that while technology is a distraction, it can also be a part of the solution through tools such as car play, in which drivers can answer a call hands-free.
“As human factors researchers, it is imperative that we improve the design of the in-vehicle interfaces to allow drivers to interact with cellular technologies in the safest way possible,” says Klauer. “Any interactions that reduce eyes off the forward roadway and physical manipulation of the phone will improve safety.”
Although texting while driving is illegal and a primary offence in Virginia and many other states, it remains a key challenge in driving safety. Klauer explains that these laws are crucial and must be enforced.
“While passing hands-free laws is certainly an important step, it will also require that these laws are enforced by police officers, that fines and violations are significant enough to warrant behaviour change, and technological solutions exist to allow drivers to remain connected while remaining as safe as possible,” says Klauer.
Texting while driving isn’t the only distraction people face. “Other examples include eating, reaching for objects, interacting with an infotainment system, etcetera,” says Klauer.
Klauer has also researched the effect that age has on distraction on risks. Her findings show that younger groups are at higher risk.
“Our younger age groups are far more affected by secondary task engagement. These younger age groups certainly include teenage drivers (ages 16-20) but also young adults,” says Klauer. “Recent research has shown that drivers between 21–29 also have very high crash rates associated with many secondary tasks, especially when using wireless devices.”
Klauer says following safety recommendations is vital to keeping both you and other drivers on the road safe.