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Distracted driving improves safety!?!

While attending the SAE International WCX 2018 in Detroit last week I bumped into an old friend who told me about a presentation he had seen at the SAE Commercial Vehicle conference, COMVEC last year. The presentation showed the results of a distracted driver study conducted on semi-truck drivers. Cameras were placed in the truck cab and driver actions were recorded. My friend noted one particularly peculiar finding… there exists a specific distracted driving mode that actually improves safety. While it is intuitively obvious and reported in numerous forms that texting, making a call, or receiving a call are all forms of distracted driving that decrease safety, the study showed that while talking on the phone safety actually improves. How many of us have been on a call and blown right past our exit or been in the wrong lane ending up on the wrong highway going the wrong direction. I personally have done that more often than I would like to admit. This is a symptom of the distracted driving. When on a call the study found that a driver’s attention to the call caused them to drive in a straight line, not changing lanes or exiting, and also caused them to drive at the same speed as the vehicle in front of them at a safe following distance. What could be safer on the highway than staying in line traveling at the average speed of the vehicles around you?

The story reminded me of something we frequently hear from customers of our WISER telemetry system. The system allows them to get data from locations that have never been accessible before and gives them insights into how their components are behaving that they never had. Whether it is the R&D engineer testing torque split using instrumented half shafts and realizing that the designed and assumed 50/50 split is not 50/50 and the stability control system needs reprogramming or the NHRA Top Fuel dragster frame that was thought to be going into resonance due to clutch lock up but was actually going into resonance due to an engine spark curve that had a discontinuity the test results went against popular wisdom and showed what was really happening. As one of my engineering professors once said, “One well-conducted experiment is worth 1,000 educated guesses.”

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