20 – End Distracted Driving: One Man’s Journey

April 28, 2014 | Posted in Distracted Driving, Podcast Episodes

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Joel Feldman is an attorney and counselor in Philadelphia. After his daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver, Mr. Feldman created EndDD (End Distracted Driving). He now speaks with teens, adults and businesses about distracted driving and what we need to do to end it.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and this episode is Part Four of a four-part series examining distracted driving, and what we need to do to be safer drivers. Mr. Feldman provides some useful suggestions for teens and parents on how to be safer when on the road.

Distracted Driving is more than cell phones.

Distracted Driving is more than cell phones.

Distracted Driving is more than Cell Phones

The 58 year-old male driver who struck and killed Casey was reaching for his GPS device as Casey was crossing the street at an intersection.  His statement: “I didn’t see her.”  He had taken his eyes off the road to look for something in his car.

Mr. Feldman points out that the researchdemonstrates that 40% of distracted driving crashes are the result of cell phone use, with the other 60% from other distractions, including: eating, putting on makeup, shaving, and reaching into the back seat.  Distracted Driving is the result of the driver doing something else while driving, at the expense of being fully engaged with the primary task of driving. The resulting costs can be fatal.

End Distracted Driving is Born

After sharing his story of his daughter’s tragic death with a state legislature deliberating a bill aimed at increasing pedestrian safety, Mr. Feldman was a short time later asked to speak about distracted driving to schools and teens. He soon realized that a better approach was possible.  Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, developed a presentation for Mr. Feldman and through EndDD, he now visits schools to talks about this deadly topic in a more proactive manner.

End Distracted Driving

Buckle Up and Phone Down

When talking with teens, his message is not a lecture; it is a discussion about a societal problem, not just a teen problem. One facet of the program encourages teens to recognize that they can be role models for their parents, siblings, and friends. When talking to parents, there are two possible approaches. One is to tackle it head on and ask: “Do you use a cell phone while driving?” Not surprisingly, some parents hold to the mistaken belief that because they are experienced drivers, their use of a cell phone is not a problem.  Mr. Feldman has found that approaching the issue differently with these parents is more effective. He asks parents how important their teens are to them, and then encourages them to act as good role models for their teens.

Mr. Feldman encourages parents to enter into an agreement with their teens, pledging that neither the parents nor the teens will drive distracted, including using a cell phone. He points out that parents are not fulfilling their overall obligation to be good role models for their teens if driving skills are not included in their discussions. It is all about being the driver you want your teen to be.

Speaking Up as a Bystander

We all seem to think we are above-average drivers – which mathematically is not possible.  Mr. Feldman asks parents how many think they are above-average and typically 70% or greater raise their hand. When he asks the question in reverse–how many think they are below average drivers—only 3 raised their hands.

One other facet of Mr. Feldman’s presentation addresses bystander intervention, to really consider how a teen can speak up as a passenger, friend, or even to parents.  At first Mr. Feldman was hearing teens say, “My parents are doing it, so why can’t I?”  However, now he is hearing, “I don’t have to drive like my mom or my dad, and I want to be a good role model for my brother and sister.”  More teens are getting the message.

Recommendations for Safety

End Distracted Driving

Parents – Role model a good driver

Mr. Feldman has two pressing recommendations to teens on the subject of distracted driving:

  1. Think about the independence you get when you have your driver’s license.  With your independence, it is vital to make choices that make sense.
  2. Whether a driver or a passenger in a car, you need to assume responsibility in getting to your destination safely.  It is important to speak up when noticing a behavior that could put everyone at risk.

For parents, Mr. Feldman’s primary recommendation is to go home and tell your child how important he or she is to you and enter into an agreement where both the parent and the child agree not to drive distracted.  As he states, parents can send a powerful message when the parent declares, “I made a mistake and I want to change that and work with you so we both live long lives.”

Mr. Feldman finishes his presentations with a picture of a pond and its gentle ripple effect, reminding his audience that we each, individually, can make a difference.  If each person who hears his presentation changes his or her behavior and then encourages a friend or family member to do the same, these positive transformations will ripple across the school, county, state and beyond.

In a few more days, Driving Distracted Awareness Month will be over for 2014.  However, what isn’t over is the discussion and the effort to raise awareness.  Don’t let this be the year where you didn’t make a change for the better.  Make the pledge, talk to your teen, share this story and save a life.  Don’t drive distracted.

What action are you taking to stop driving distracted?  Let me know in the comments below.

Just A Few Seconds PSA

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19 – Distracted Driving—It’s All In Your Mind

Cognitive Distraction

April 21, 2014 | Posted in Distracted Driving, Podcast Episodes

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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and this episode is part three of a four-part series examining distracted driving, and what we need to do to be safer drivers.

Russ Martin, State Manager at AAA

Russ Martin, State Manager at AAA

Recent research of cognitive distractions found a person’s mental focus does impact driving. Russ Martin, Manager of State Relations at AAA discusses the research, what it means and provides tips on how you can be a safer driver.

Cognitive Distractions are Real

Distracted driving comprises one or more aspects: manual, visual, and/or cognitive. A cognitive or mental distraction has been difficult to study because it all happens within the brain.

Hands-free cell phones, Voice-to-Text software are designed to make it easier to be connected with the world around us. Yet, these same helpful technologies put us in danger when we drive.

Partnering with researchers at the University of Utah, AAA found a way to look into our brains and determine that hands-free technologies used in the car dangerously divert our attention from the vital task of driving.

Groundbreaking Research

Cognitive Distractions

Getting wired up for the research

For the research, participants wore a skullcap with electrodes attached that were wired to a monitor allowing researchers to examine their brain waves and study mental workload. Participant then ‘drove’ in a simulator or a specially equipped car on the road, performing a number of activities that include:

  • Changing the radio station
  • Using a cell phones, both hand-held and hands-free
  • Sending an email with voice-activated technologies, and
  • Doing a math problem.

Reaction time and eye movements were captured with cameras and other electronic devices.

In Phase One of the two-phase study, researchers created a rating scale for cognitive distractions using a scale of one to five, with five being the most distracting type of activity. Changing the radio station was determined to be a one, the least cognitively distracting activity. The use of speech-to-text technologies, such as features allowing drivers to respond to text messages or emails, was rated three, indicating a high level of mental distraction. Phase two of the study is taking an in depth look at the voice-activated technologies and examining what can be done to make them safer.

Creating New Risks?

Automakers are designing devices that allow individuals to keep their hands on the steering wheel, and use voice commands to interact with the car. But this is not limited to carmakers. For example, Apple just came out with Apple CarPlay calling it “a safer way to use your iPhone in the car,” and Google has developed Google Glasses. Companies are reducing manual distractions; but increasing cognitive distractions. This does not make it safer.

Cognitive Distractions

Customers are asking for the technology

Cognitive distractions are just as dangerous, if not more dangerous. Once both phases of the study are done, it is hoped automakers and others will take the research into account in their designs.

However, it is important to acknowledge that others also share the responsibility in creating these new risks; and that is all of us. Customers are asking carmakers for these gadgets, the companies oblige us, and then we use them. A high percentage of AAA members (and non-AAA members) believe distracted driving is dangerous, but still they do it. Driving while chatting on a cell phone (hand-held or hands-free) or sending a text message is distracted driving. It’s a “Do as I say, Not as I Do” attitude. As Russ states, we have “heroic” assumptions of our own driving abilities.

Distracted driving kills and it injures. It isn’t selective, choosing only women, or only men. It doesn’t distinguish between the poor and the rich, or the young and the old. It is an all-encompassing killer. Fortunately, there are ways to help protect you from this killer.

What Can You Do?

First and foremost, when you are in the driver’s seat, the most important thing you can do is focus on the driving. Keep in mind:

  • When driving, it is not a time to stow away loose items, to dress or to groom.
  • Before driving somewhere, make sure your children are secure with their safety belts fastened, and pets are protected with a harness or other safety device.
  • If you have a passenger in the car with you while driving, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Eating while driving is distracted driving, so the best course is to always stop and eat. But if you’re going to do it, eat smart snacks such as chips or carrots. Don’t eat food that creates a mess or is difficult to eat, like soup or something that requires two hands.

As Russ stated, there is so much that can be done beforehand to square away everything before even pulling away from the curb. Being proactive could save your life and the lives of your passengers.

What are you doing to reduce your distractions?

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18 – Driving and Cell Phones: The Grand Illusion

April 14, 2014 | Posted in Distracted Driving, Podcast Episodes

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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and this episode is part two of a four-part series examining distracted driving, and what we need to do to be safer drivers.  In short, Dr. Paul Atchley’s response is to turn the cell phone off and put it away while we drive.


Cognitive distractions and driving can be deadly

Dr. Atchley has been conducting research and teaching about cognitive factors related to driving for more than 20 years.  During that time, he has published numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters on issues of vision and attention including their relationship to driving, and in this episode of Highway to Safety Dr. Atchley discusses the myths of multi-tasking and our inability to actually see what is happening in front of us.

Cognitive Distractions: A Dangerous Activity

Distracted driving comprises one or more aspects: manual, visual, and/or cognitive. Cognitive distraction is the least obvious but potentially the most dangerous of the three.  Driving in general is probably the most dangerous activity you will do during a day.  The most likely cause of death for someone under the age of 25 is motor vehicle crashes; it is more likely than the next three causes combined. For someone 25 and older, motor vehicle crashes are the second most likely cause of death.  Combine driving and a cognitive distraction and you have a recipe for disaster.

When considering the brain’s capabilities, language skills are a difficult task that takes years to perfect and are one of the first to fail as our brain ages.  Talking and listening use a lot of our brain, although we don’t realize it since it becomes a routine activity. Talking on a cell phone while hands-free or not makes no difference. Both are risky when driving because the brain is engaged in a task that is not related to driving.

Grand Illusion

Multi-Tasking is a myth

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

In today’s society, there is a push to be able to “multi-task.” Many people claim they can do it effectively. But being able to multi-task is a myth. The human brain cannot perform more than one task at a time, nor can it be trained to multi-task. Studies of fighter pilots attempting to train their brain to multi-task have demonstrated the futility of it.

A brain does not multi-task, it switches tasks, sometimes in milliseconds. Instead of giving full performance to two tasks, it choses which one the person has “said” is more important, and then focuses on that task.  If necessary,  the brain will switch back to another task when something happens. You can tell when the person you are speaking to on the other end of the phone is not fully engaged in the call—you get short answers, or “uh-huh” or “mmmm.”  As soon as you point out to the person that he or she is not listening, the brain changes the focus, you get their full attention, and if that person is driving, it is the attention to driving that suffers.

The Grand Illusion

As humans, we have the ability to fool ourselves, or as Dr. Atchley calls it, The Grand Illusion.  We believe we will see everything in front of us, but in actuality we do not have 180-degree vision.  The brain actually fills in the details.  Add to that the “task switching” the brain is doing, and you start to understand just how much of what is happening is not being recognized by the brain.

Distracted Driving and Cell Phones: More Myths

Grand Illusion

There are a lot of myths out there, learn the facts

One thing that has not fooled the scientists who deal with the brain are cell phones and cognitive distraction.  The research is clear: it creates a risk.  Based on the research, Dr. Atchley favors a cell phone ban while the person is driving. Those opposed to a ban raise a variety of claims, including:

  • Decreased business productivity
  • Lack of public support
  • Enforcement difficulties

Each of these beliefs has been shown through research and surveys to be false.  They are additional myths.  Fortune 500 companies that have imposed cell phone bans have seen no reduction in productivity, but they have seen a decrease in crashes and property damage.  Surveys have shown that over two-thirds of the public support a full cell phone ban, and law enforcement has been able find ways to successfully enforce current laws regarding cell phone limitations.

Time to Be Proactive

When asked for recommendations on what to do about cell phones and driving, Dr. Atchley provides two recommendations:

First, parents have to be proactive with their teens.  Surveys have found that 97% of students have texted while driving, even though they know it is can be more dangerous than driving drunk.  Parents need to let their teens know that they will be checking their phone to determine when the phone was used.  If a call or text happens at the same time a teen was driving, then the teen needs to suffer a consequence, such as the loss of phone privileges and driving.

Second, Dr. Atchley recognizes that the temptation to use a phone while driving is huge  The easiest way to avoid the temptation is not to put yourself in the situation to begin with.  When you get in the car, turn the phone off and put it in the trunk, in the glove box, in a purse or backpack and put those out of reach. No phone call or text is worth the additional risk.  Put the phone away and focus on the driving.

Inattention Blindness Video

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17 – Your Cell Phone: It’s Not Worth the Risk


April 7, 2014 | Posted in Distracted Driving, Podcast Episodes

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“When you decide not to wear your seat belt, you are pretty much endangering only your own life.  But when you elect to talk on the cell phone or text, you are not only endangering your own life, you’re endangering the lives of pedestrians and others.” These words were said to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Member Robert Sumwalt at an NTSB Distracted Driving Summit by family members of a loved one killed by a distracted driver.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month


Robert Sumwalt, NTSB Board Member

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and the Traffic Safety Guy is hosting a four-part series on Distracted Driving: what it is and what we can do about it.  The series kicks off with a discussion with NTSB Board Member Robert Sumwalt.

In 2012 distracted driving in the United States alone resulted in at least:

  • 3,328 fatalities
  • 410,000 injuries

The research reveals that someone who texts and drives is 23 times more likely to be in a crash and that 40% of American teens say that they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger. Expert after expert now declares distracted driving an epidemic.

Distraction a Top Priority at NTSB

The NTSB has taken a strong stand on distraction in general, and cell phones and other “portable electronic devices” (PEDs) specifically, recognizing that distraction in all modes of transportation is dangerous. In January 2014, the NTSB announced its “Most Wanted List” for the 2014 year. “Eliminating Distraction in Transportation” is on that list of 10 priorities.


Texting is one of the most dangerous distractions while driving

In this episode Member Sumwalt candidly discusses what needs to be done about distracted driving, noting that cell phone use is one of the most pressing concerns.  Almost all states have some form of a ban on texting, whether it is focused on teens or all drivers, because texting is recognized as a major contributor to distracted driving.  However, only a handful of states have a ban on hand held cell phones and no state or locality has a complete ban on the use of drivers using a cell phone, hands free or not.

Time for a Complete Ban

Late in 2011, NTSB called for a nationwide ban on the use of portable electronic devices while driving.  Hands free cell phone use is no safer than holding the phone in your hand; it is the mind that is distracted from the task for driving.  Member Sumwalt continues this call for action, noting that to have an impact on distracted driving there must be good education, good laws, and strong enforcement of those laws.

It is time to have a social stigma attached to driving while using a cell phone, just as it now is socially unacceptable to drink too much and drive.  Member Sumwalt pointed out that it took time for the attitude change in drinking and driving and it will probably take time to change the mindset regarding cell phones.  One way to start that change is for parents to model for their children what it is to be a safe driver, which includes not using a cell phone while driving.

Businesses Are Taking Action

More companies are implementing complete cell phone bans while driving.

More companies are implementing complete cell phone bans while driving.

In 2009, NTSB instituted an agency policy that no employee of NTSB shall use a cell phone while driving.  Member Sumwalt indicated that the policy worked to change behavior at the agency, and to lead by example.

But it is not only NTSB that has instituted this policy.  A few years back, the National Safety Council did a survey of Fortune 500 companies about their cell phone policies.  Looking at potential liability and employee safety, 18% of the companies that responded indicated they had instituted a complete ban on the use of cell phones while driving, including Shell Oil, DuPont, BP, Abbott, Cargill, and Time Warner Cable.

Notably, the vast majority of businesses indicated that there was no reduction in work production, and one-in-five indicated that they had seen a reduction in crashes and property damage.

Why Risk It?

Ultimately, as pointed out by Member Sumwalt, the NTSB recommendations are based on solid research into the underlying cause of crashes.  As he asked during the discussion, the real question is: “What makes this phone call so important that I am going to risk my life and the lives of others?”

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