[Image: Scott Frederick Starrett]
I hosted a conference and co-wrote the report for a summit of experts on the TOP TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY ISSUES FACING THE NATION* sponsored by The University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU TRI), presented by The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics and theUniversity of Kansas School of Engineering, and funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration & Federal Highway Administration.
Our main point was that America has tried many times to create a national transportation policy over the last century, with the latest and most comprehensive attempt in 2000-2001. None of these ventures was conceived or executed at the presidential level save possibly President Eisenhower’s “National Defense Highway System.” Now humankind confronts interrelated crises of energy and transportation in a rapidly changing world where we must deal with spiking petroleum prices, decaying bridges, growing congestion in all modes, an aging and inattentive driver population, a shortage of adequately trained transportation engineers, and the diverse ramifications of global climate change. The next president and next Congress of the United States of America will need to tackle each of these challenges immediately. Their decisions will affect the fate of the species and the planet.
The summit then identified (a) a “top 9” list (see below) of the most pressing problems facing the nation and (b) a range of options for government and industry to consider. Some of the items on the menu of options reflected disagreement on courses of action, but everyone agreed that for each of these crises, America needs to take some actions immediately.
ENERGY PRICES & INDEPENDENCE
FINANCE AND INVESTMENT
DETERIORATING INFRASTRUCTURE AND CAPACITY
The issue that was most obviously related to online social-interactive media and new technological gadgetry was DRIVER DISTRACTION.
What we found was that despite the many safety features and improvements in modern vehicular transport and roadways, about ten times more Americans die each year in car accidents than have been killed in the entire Iraq war. Many causes of roadway mayhem, such as drunk driving, are well publicized. But impairment due to alcohol or drugs is actually a subset of a much larger problem that is becoming a crisis that can affect the lives of any of us and cost the country immense sums in accidents and damage: driver distraction. A wave of research conducted at KU and other universities shows that our gadgets are, when used while driving, killing us.
— Cell phone distraction—which likely is severely under-measured or recorded—officially causes some 2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries in the United States each year. Driver distraction from other factors, both long-standing (children in the car) and recent (video screens in the driver’s view) are also a factor in roadway accidents. For example, cell phone users have been found to be 5.36 times more likely to get in an accident than undistracted drivers. The risk is about the same as for drivers with a 0.08% blood-alcohol level. In other words, the distractions associated with talking on a cell phone while driving are as or more debilitating than driving legally drunk.
— Talking on a cell phone while driving a car reduces attention in younger adults so that they have an average increase in accident risk of between 200 and 700%. The act of driving while talking on a cell phone is a classic example of a dual task. While on a cell phone, especially in the initial minutes of a conversation, a driver will be almost completely unaware of surrounding traffic.
— Driver distraction due to communications devices can be broken into two components: physical distraction and cognitive distraction. The physical distraction of holding the phone while driving has been shown to have very little effect on driving performance. Cognitive distractions, on the other hand—caused by the conversation rather than the physical factors—have been found to be the primary source of driver distraction. Even with these findings, drivers and legislators tend to focus primarily on physical distraction.
— Younger, inexperienced drivers are of great concern since they are high adopters of new electronic communication gadgets—with near 100% adoption rate in some samples—and have a higher existing risk of accidents. (In a KU study now underway, some 90% of teen drivers say they text and drive.)
–Right now, state laws restricting cell phone use are scattershot and their effectiveness has been called into question.
–Moreover, the aging Baby Boomer population, which will be entering the senior driving ranks over the next 20 years, are also regular cell phoners.
There are obvious legal, ethical, and social issues that arise from these phenomena. At some point we have to ask about whether we need to pass more laws or rather to educate people to be more responsible–or both.
* David D. Perlmutter, Ph.D., Ming-Heng Wang, Ph.D., Steven D. Schrock, Ph.D., P.E. “TOP TRANSPORTATION & ENERGY ISSUES FACING THE NATION.” Organized and Hosted by The University of Kansas Transportation Research Institute (KU TRI). Presented by The Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics & the University of Kansas School of Engineering. Funded by U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovation Technology Administration & Federal Highway Administration. Grant #DT0S59-06-G-0047.
Originally posted January 27, 2009 at PolicyByBlog
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