Excerpt from F2000I388 (presented in Seoul, Korea)
7.0 EXPRESSWAY FATALITIES: THE PROBLEM IS SOLVABLE
Old English Adage: A problem well stated is a problem half solved.
Al’s Corollary: A problem badly stated will consume tonnes of resources
without ever being resolved.
7.1. THE FIRST HALF OF THE SOLUTION: DEFINE THE PROBLEM WELL
The DEDI Theory has now proven itself in 17 countries representing all the inhabited continents. Moreover, having seen that economic distraction accounts for the major swings of the fatality rate about the technology trendline, it is now clear that mental distraction in general is second only to traffic volume in the generation of accidents. Thus it is now time to admit that the traffic police are correct:
The fundamental traffic safety problem is the mentally distracted driver.
7.2. THE SECOND HALF OF THE SOLUTION
The second half of the solution will take a little longer but need not take more than the first few years of the ‘Second Century of the Automobile’. A good start can be made if ‘Automotive Innovation for the New Millennium’ acknowledges distraction as the real danger to be averted. With respect to the theme of this session, ‘Intelligent Transportation Systems – Policy’, it is absolutely essential that automotive engineers understand that danger.
The ‘ITS’ currently in use throughout the world can be viewed as packets of several hundred human brains ‘parallel-processing’ the task of controlling traffic flow. Viewed in this way the (collective) human brain is immensely more powerful than any ITS yet conceived. It has unfortunately one major ‘bug’. (And the DEDI has shown that this ‘bug’ is part of the basic operating system no matter the language used, the country of manufacture or, least of all , the colour of the machine.) When presented with a low-power task, it will drift away to more entertaining/profitable subjects. If your ITS relieves it of too much of the driving effort it will drift too far away to get back in time to deal with any traffic control problem unforeseen by the ITS computers.
7.2.1 THE ROAD MUST TALK TO THE DRIVER
With that in mind the good safety record of the German autobahns is easily understandable. It is not ‘in spite of’ unlimited speeds but precisely because there is no general speed limit. At any moment in time thousands of human brains are ‘parallel processing’ the very good information provided by the highway infrastructure, including the necessity to limit speed in certain situations. People do have accidents on the autobahns because of mental distraction but, since more attention is required to drive safely, there is a smaller probability that two ‘distracted’ brains will arrive at the same point in time and space.
In the short term this is a promising direction for ITS: using electronics and the French ‘rappel’ concept to deliver important roadway information ‘just-in-time’ to an alert human brain … or to issue a ‘rappel’ to a non-alert brain. (I perhaps should mention that the title of this sub-section has been ‘borrowed’ from BMW.)
7.2.2 RISK PERCEPTION
A complementary interpretation of the good autobahn safety record is provided by Wilde’s work over the past few decades on risk perception – Ref.14. It seems to me that great progress against mental distraction could be achieved if a regulatory authority used the Swiss idea of speeding fines as a percent of income but applied it to civic fines for ‘at fault’ accidents (with the fault being assessed on a percentage basis on the drivers involved).
Important further advances in concentration could be obtained if a ‘black box’ were also regulated onto all vehicles. The knowledge that the speed of the vehicle and the exact time and force of brake application (among other items) would be available to police would increase risk perception hugely. (And I do not consider it a privacy issue if your daydreaming endangers my children.)
7.2.3 COURTEOUS DRIVING
At the individual level the best means the author has found to avoid long periods of daydreaming at the wheel (I call it ‘going on autopilot’; the Belgian police officer called it ‘la conduite instinctive’) is to move to the ‘top level’ of driving. As in a computer game, at the beginner’s level you are learning to drive the car but that quickly becomes ‘automatic’. The second level is ‘defensive driving’ and, while entertaining, can eventually be done with ‘half your brain’. The top level, ‘courteous driving’, involves being aware of every car on the road with you and trying to place your car, in time and space, in such a manner that you facilitate whatever the other drivers are trying to do. Courteous driving can never be done with half a brain and thus the tendency to ‘go on autopilot’ while you sort out a business problem, or dream about your daughter’s wedding, is greatly reduced.