Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some people drive me to distraction

Paul Leroux
Hey, have you ever panned your camera? It's really easy: You just track a moving subject with your camera and then squeeze the shutter while both you and the subject are in motion. It's a great technique for creating images that evoke a sense of speed, which makes it popular among photographers for Motor Trend, Car and Driver, and other automotive magazines.

When you pan, you never really know what kind of image you're going to get. Often, the results are interesting. And sometimes, they're downright interesting. Take this shot, for example:

Lattés and overdrive don't mix. Just sayin'.

Now, holding a cellphone while rocketing down the highway is just plain wrong. To anyone who does it, I have one thing to say: "You're endangering other people's lives for the sake of a f***ing phone call. Where the hell do you get off doing that?"

But look at this guy. He's isn't holding a phone, but a coffee — even worse. Just imagine if he gets into a situation that demands quick, evasive action. He will, in all likelihood, hold on to the cup for fear of burning himself. Whereas if he had a phone, he would simply drop it and put his hand back on the wheel.

Mind you, I have no data to prove that coffee cups poses a greater evil than cellphones. But the core issue remains: Cellphone use is just one of many factors that contribute to driver distraction. In fact, research suggests that cellphones account for only 5% of distraction-related accidents that end in injury.

So, even if every cellphone on the planet disappeared tomorrow, we would still have a massive problem on our hands. To that end, my colleagues Scott Pennock and Andy Gryc suggest a new approach to designing vehicle cockpit systems in their paper, "Situational Awareness: a Holistic Approach to the Driver Distraction Problem."

The paper explores how system designers can use the concept of situational awareness to develop a vehicle cockpit that helps the driver become more aware of objects and events on the road, and that adapts in-vehicle user interfaces to manage the driver’s cognitive load.

It's worth a read. And who knows, perhaps someone, someday, will develop a cockpit system that detects if you are sipping something and tells you what you need to hear: "Dammit Jack, put that cup down. It's not worth endangering other people's lives for the sake of a f***ing latté."


  1. As an experienced bicycle rider (> 100000 miles) I always look into cars to figure out what the driver is up to. Here in Europe I see less coffee drinking but many who smoke or/and(!) have phones in their hands. So I put my hands on the brakes.

  2. And then there are drivers who smoke, hold a phone, and read something (novel, map, directions, etc.) at the same time. :-) Seriously, as a cyclist, I always try to see what drivers are doing and, when appropriate, establish eye contact with them -- that way, I know that they know I'm there.

    >100000 miles -- that's fantastic!

    - Paul

  3. You guys need to drive in SoCal sometime. More than once, I have seen women applying mascara with both hands while looking in the vanity mirror, and driving at 80MPH in traffic.

    The first time I saw this (12 years ago), I moved to the right lane and slowed to 55MPH in order to put distance between me and her; as an experienced SoCal driver, I now speed up to put that distance between me and her (after spending 5+ hours trapped behind an accident caused by one of these drivers, you quickly learn that you need to have them *behind* you).

  4. Anonymous, apologies for taking so long to post your comment! I, too, try to get ahead of drivers whose behavior is less than desirable. Mind you, there is always that brief, nerve-wracking moment when you have to pass them: Will they, in their distraction, suddenly change lanes as you drive past? - Paul