Eyes on the road!

Written by: Eureka! | Published:

Despite the best efforts of Government initiatives, harsher penalties being enforced by the police and more disturbing advertising campaigns against it, distracted driving continues to be a major cause of road accidents in the UK. Sadly, it is commonplace to see drivers endangering their own lives, those of other road users and also pedestrians by using their mobile phone, not only to make calls, but also to text or increasingly to check social media sites.

On average, drivers take their eyes off the road for 5s at a time while texting. At 55mph that’s equivalent to driving 110m. One recent TV advert by the AA depicts a woman picking up her drunken husband from town only for him to switch places with her because statistically he’s the ‘safer’ driver as she ‘needs’ to send a text.

It’s estimated only 1.4% of car drivers and 2.7% of van drivers have been caught using a mobile phone while driving, yet a whopping 43% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 have admitted to using their phones while behind the wheel.

The Challenge

The challenge this month is therefore to come up with a way of stopping drivers using phones while driving. While the ‘hands-free kit’ has perhaps solved the problem of making calls, so many are tempted to check a message or social media notification when they feel the phone vibrate in their pockets.

The aim here is to stop mobile phones being a distraction. While the obvious way to avoid temptation is to turn the phone off, more than one generation are seemingly addicted to social media. So, what can be designed into vehicles to take away the temptation?

We have several solutions that we will publish in the July edition of Eureka! In the meantime, why not submit your ideas to the editor (justin.cunningham@markallengroup.com) or leave a comment below.

The solution to last month’s Coffee Time Challenge comes from multiple automotive manufacturers. While Bluetooth and handsfree options are available, voice recognition like Ford’s SYNC will read incoming texts and allows drivers to compose texts verbally. In addition, MyKey is used to block incoming calls and texts while teenagers are driving.

As well as this, there are crash avoidance systems that notify you of dangers up ahead that automatically apply the brake and lane departure systems alert drivers if they drift out of a lane without signalling.

GM is developing eye-tracking technology that can sense when you look away from the road and BMW has unveiled plans for gesture control for its in-car controls.

Honda’s R&D department is creating workload management software that will measure heat rate and respiration through sensors in the steering wheel and seat belt, mechanical input by the driver and road and weather conditions. All this will determine if it is acceptable for the driver to be interrupted by a phone call as it says that talking on the phone on long, straight roads could keep cognitive levels up. Honda is also considering restricting the amount of interaction with touchscreens while the car is in motion. Many of its cars already have a ‘do not disturb’ button.

Nissan have gone back to the Victorian era, however and have introduced a compartment into the armrest of its Juke model that acts as a Faraday cage that blocks the phones cellular, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections.

Ultimately, distracted driving will become more of a risk as cars are designed with more in-cabin features and connect more readily with mobile phones. Perhaps the ultimate solution is a fully autonomous vehicle network?

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Coffee Time Challenge is just a bit of fun, but it is based on a real engineering solution. If you send in your ideas by using the comment button below, we can add your solution as an alternative – perhaps something funny, practical, cheap or, of course, innovative.


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