Precious two seconds

By KSNayar

Tyre blowout is a leading cause of vehicle crash and fatality. When there is loss of air pressure, the vehicle wobbles and the driver loses control. Another is sexual distraction.

Even if the vehicle uses quality tyres, these need to be regularly checked for the recommended inflation pressure. When the tyres go flat, yawing occurs and the driver is unable to control the vehicle. It is found that inflation pressure and heat build up cause blowout.

World Health Organisation has recently reported that the number of deaths due to road crashes is rising steadily. It has reached over 1.2 million annually. However, the rate of death relative to the size of the world’s population has remained constant. But it’s no consolation.

Road accident is the eighth highest cause of death. More people die as a result of road traffic injuries than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or diarrhoeal diseases. The global efforts to reach the UN goal of 50% reduction in road fatalities by 2020 still remain illusive.

These figures are terrifying: Annually huge road fatalities, 20-50 million are injured or disabled and about $518 billion a year is lost in material damage.

It is imperative that governments, the auto and tyre industry harness technology to minimise and eliminate road accidents. However, that alone is not sufficient. We have to change our mindset, adhere to traffic rules and regulations and remain attentive.

In popular perception tyre blowouts are major causes of road accidents. One may blame the manufacturers of tyres and vehicles. But there is another element that needs to be looked into.

It is drivers’ distraction and inattentiveness that cause most accidents. Research shows that it’s dangerous to take the eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time. What is alarming is that these are cited for 80% of all car accidents.

In other words, at least two seconds of focussed attention on road could avert 80% of the accidents. Analyses of the causes of traffic accidents show that in 95% of cases, the human factor is the cause.

The villain is certainly the mobile phone. Research shows drivers using the phone are four times more likely to meet with a crash than when not using the phone. Speaking on the phone causes what researchers describe as cognitive distraction.

Impairs driving

Cognitive distraction results in impaired driving such as longer reaction time to traffic situations. What is distressing to note is that such observations have emerged at a time when studies are showing that people’s attention span is getting eroded in this age of digitalisation.

The collective global attention span is narrowing due to the amount of information that is publicly available. People now have more things to focus on – but often focus on things for short periods of time. People get distracted quickly.

One can imagine its combined impact on vehicle accidents when just two seconds make the life-or-death difference. All of us are facing shorter attention span that curtails cognitive processing.

To make matters worse, drivers get distracted glancing at the sprouting billboards on the road with sexual appeals. Another set of studies shows drivers subjectively perceive sexual contents in roadside advertising as distracting and dangerous.

Researchers say that sexually appealing cues in roadside advertising pose a threat to road safety. Statistical analyses show that traffic accidents due to driver inattention can be attributed to the presence of roadside advertisements that alter both driving behaviour and cognitive disposition.

Even if the driver momentarily gazes at a sexually appealing advertising, the image processing in his mind takes much longer time. It is found that sexual appeals cause arousal and emotions which can affect the driver’s attention management.

Researchers have cited many cases, including the one in Russia in which trucks driving through the city with naked women resulted in 517 crashes in just a day.

The attention management problem following sexual stimuli in roadside advertising affects men and women equally. Several countries have made attempts to ban or control such wayside advertisements, but they have not been effective in curbing accidents.

With the growing number of people with short attention span due to digital media consumption in the information age, it is about time we all encourage autonomous driving by refining the software and hardware on board vehicles.

Let us drive around without human drivers. Life is precious. Remember it hangs on the two seconds.

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