Distracted Driving

On The Media

A Vigilante Solution to Texting and Driving

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Florida man has been accused of putting a mobile cell phone jammer in his car to stop nearby drivers from distracted driving.

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Transportation Nation

NY Gov Cuomo: Distracted Driving is "Getting Worse, Not Better"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Driving on the New York State Thruway? Tempted to look at your cell phone? The governor is hoping new signage will encourage you to defer that urge for a few miles.

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Transportation Nation

WATCH: Werner Herzog Takes on Texting While Driving

Friday, August 09, 2013

The latest subject for Werner Herzog -- the filmmaker behind such grueling works as Fitzcarraldo and Grizzly Man -- is the danger posed by texting while driving.

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Transportation Nation

NY Begins Distracted Driving Crackdown... with Special Trooper Patrols

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


New York State Police will use special undercover SUVs to catch distracted drivers as part of a summer crackdown starting this July 4th holiday weekend.

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Transportation Nation

Pay-By-Phone Parking -- And Real-Time Space Availability -- Being Tested in the Bronx

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

An 18-block stretch in the Bronx will be the first in New York City to test pay-by-phone parking.

The pilot program will allow people to use phone, internet or smartphone app to pay for 264 metered parking spaces along or adjacent to Arthur Avenue  -- as well as spots in the city's Belmont Municipal Parking Field. To participate, motorists must sign up in advance on the Pay-By-Phone website. Each Muni-Meter in the pilot program has a QR code and a seven-digit number; the motorist must use either to confirm payment.

Users will receive a text or email when their meter is about to expire, and they will have the option of extending their time without having to return to their cars. According to the mayor's press release, traffic enforcement agents will use new hand-held scanners to cross-check the PayByPhone's data to ensure compliance.

"New York City parking has come a long way since we had to put a roll of quarters in our pocket," said city transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, making the announcement Tuesday in the Bronx with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

A side view of the Muni-Meter in the Bronx. Note QR code and 7-digit ID. (Photo by Christine Streich)

Related: Good Bye, Parking Meter; Hello, Muni-Meter

The pay-by-phone pilot will be tested for three months; it could then expand citywide.

Potentially more interesting than the ability to feed the meter remotely is the second half of Tuesday's announcement: a real-time parking availability map, seeded by information transmitted from roadbed sensors.

A sensor embedded in the roadway detects whether a parking space is free or not. (Photo by Christine Streich)

"Green indicates the greatest likelihood of a spot; yellow, the chances aren't so good, and red, well, you get the idea--" said Sadik-Khan. "Forget about it, as Marty [Markowitz] would say," interjected Bloomberg, referring to Brooklyn's Borough President.

Sadik-Khan added the map would cut down on the pollution created by cruising around and looking for a spot. "Knowing where to go, and to concentrate your search on where it's going to have the biggest value and the biggest payoff, is half the battle," she said.

In addition to being available online, the map is also available as a smartphone app. Bloomberg batted away suggestions that the app could encourage distracted driving.  Bloomberg reasoned passengers could check the map -- or drivers could check it before they leave "or pull over. I mean, a lot of things are meant for you, you can't do it while you're --" here the mayor paused -- "in the shower, for example."

This cracked up the crowd. "I'm just trying to think of some other place you shouldn't," Bloomberg said, moving along to the next question.

Real-time parking conditions in the Belmont section of the Bronx (click for interactive map)

Other cities around the world -- San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Miami -- use similar technology. Monica Hernandez, a spokesperson for the District Department of Transportation, said all 17,500 meters in Washington D.C. can be paid for via phone, and that the program had been in place for almost two years. "It's serving its purpose," she said. "It provides one more option for people looking to park."

With reporting from Christine Streich/WNYC.




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Transportation Nation

New Law Makes Distracted Driving a Primary Offense in Virginia

Thursday, April 04, 2013

(photo by mrjasonweaver via flickr)

Virginia lawmakers approved bipartisan legislation that makes texting while driving a primary offense, and significantly raises the fines.

State legislators passed amendments to the bill that were proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, including one increasing the fine for texting while driving from $20 to $125 dollars for a first offense and $250 dollars for every subsequent violation.

That's less than the original legislation, which pegged those fines twice as high.

Delegate Rich Anderson (R-Prince William Co.) says it puts texting on the same level as other impaired forms of driving.

"That aligns driving while intoxicated and driving while texting pretty closely," says Anderson.

Sen. George Barker (D-Alexandria) says he has been trying to get a bill passed on this topic for a number of years, after students from Centreville High School brought the issue to his attention.

"I’m very pleased, because this is an extraordinarily dangerous activity," Barker says. "The accident rate is 23 times the rate for people that are texting compared to people that aren’t, which is a phenomenal differential. It clearly will save lives."

Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) says the law addresses more than just texting at the wheel.

"You can be convicted not only if you are texting, but also if you are reading a text message, if you are sending an email or if you are reading an email," Surovell says.

The bill does not address other potential distractions, like voice-controlled messaging. There also remains some ambiguity about other activites not expressly banned in the legislation, like the use of GPS on a smartphone.

"Depending on how things work, there may need to be tweaks in the future," Barker says. "I think what we’ve done is adopted a very clear policy here, and if we need to fix the language to clarify that, we can obviously do that in the future."

The amended bill now heads to the governor's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign it.

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Transportation Nation

Distracted Driving Awareness Month Begins With Plea to Change Behavior

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

(photo by Jim Legans, Jr.)

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) Safety advocates are pivoting off Distracted Driving Awareness Month to publicize the issue.

Meanwhile, legislators in Richmond -- and push for legislation making texting while driving a primary offense in Virginia.

"I think we're getting to the point where people are starting to understand and recognize that, but I'm not sure people are quite aware of how dangerous it is,” says Debbie Pickford, chair of the board of Drive Smart Virginia.

Just how dangerous? Texting while driving increases your risk of a crash by 23 times, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Eighty percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds before the accident. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been known to honk at drivers he sees talking on cell phones, has called distracted driving "an epidemic on America's roadways."

Despite these findings, Pickford says, it has been difficult convincing teenagers as well as adults to drop their gadgets and keep both eyes on the road. “The problem is getting worse,” she says. Her group is encouraging drivers to sign a pledge in which they publicly commit to eschewing cell phones while driving.

According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association, teen driver deaths went up in the first six months of 2012 compared to the same period the prior year, and Pickford says a big reason is driver distractions like smart phones.

“We’re a multitasking society. We’re a busy society,” Pickford says. “I think multitasking has become a way of life, so people are just trying to get things done when they are in their cars and there is a lot more you can do now on a smartphone.”

Distracted Driving Awareness Month was once just one week, and advocates plans to extend their activities well past April into the “dangerous months” for teenagers when proms and graduation parties increase the potential for risky road behaviors.

Ultimately, safety advocates would like society to view distracted driving the same way it now sees drunk driving, but Pickford concedes that will take many years.

“It took a while for society to get to the fact that drinking and driving is really very dangerous, so I think it will take a few years to build this campaign and make people aware,” she says. “It doesn’t happen over night and it’s why we have gone from a week to a month.  We are hosting a distracted driving summit in September in Richmond.”

Advocates are also looking to Richmond lawmakers for help. This week state legislators are expected to approve legislation that would make texting while driving a primary offense.

“Right now a policeman can pull someone over if they see something else going on in the car.  They cannot pull them over if they see you texting while driving,” Pickford says.

Drive Smart Virginia says youth education starts in the car with parents. Children as young as five begin to pick up their parents’ driving behaviors, so she is urging parents to set good examples and refrain from using hand-held cell phones at the wheel.

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Transportation Nation

Florida Allows Texting While Driving, Local Dad Fights to Change That

Monday, March 18, 2013

(Photo by Jason Weaver)

(Ariana Prothero, WLRN -- Miami, Fla.) Florida is one of just six states without any ban on texting and driving, even though experts say it makes you 23 times more likely to get into a crash. One Florida dad has made it his mission to get a texting ban passed.

Steve Augello lives in Spring Hill, Florida, just outside of Tampa. Like a lot of parents, he always made his 17-year-old daughter, Alessandra, check-in with him when she was out. Augello also had a rule.

“You weren’t allowed to have that cell phone out while you’re driving,” Augello remembers telling Alessandra. “I even tested her a few times I called her when she was driving and it always went right through to the recorder.”

On November 10th, 2008, Alessandra called her dad around 7 p.m. telling him she was about to head home from rehearsal for a school play. That was the last time they would speak. As Alessandra was driving home, 19-year-old Alyssa Dyer suddenly veered across the center line hitting Alessandra head-on and killing them both. Florida Highway Patrol records show a text message went through to Dyer’s boyfriend shortly after the accident.

When Augello got Alessandra’s belongings back later that night, he found her cell phone zipped up in her purse, just like he always told her to do.

Augello has been telling this story a lot lately because he’s trying to persuade lawmakers in Tallahassee to pass a ban on texting while driving.

That is exactly what Republican Senator Nancy Detert fromVenice is trying to do. This is the fourth year in a row Detert has filed a bill that would make texting and driving a secondary offense. In the past, the legislation had trouble gaining traction but this year both the Senate and House versions are snowballing through their respective committees.

“We don't even need a study,” said Detert. “Everybody who drives the highway on a daily basis sees this everyday of their life and it's outrageously dangerous and needs to be stopped.”

More than a third of drivers reported reading a text or email while driving in a 2012 survey by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

In Florida, over 4,500 accidents last year were attributed to drivers being distracted by their cell phones or other electronic communication devices.  Of those crashes, 255 were directly linked to texting. But, those numbers don’t paint a full picture. State law enforcement officials say the issue is under reported and there’s no way to count near misses.

As part of a recent pilot study, researchers at a driving simulation lab at Florida International University asked people to compose text messages while in the driving simulators. Denis McCarthy, who helps run the lab, says participants often weren’t even aware that they were making mistakes.

“It’s the way we’re hardwired,” explained McCarthy. “Humans can do one task really well, but studies have shown when we divide our attention between two tasks, we don’t do either well.”

McCarthy says the research clearly shows that texting and driving causes accidents.

But, where the research is less clear is whether bans on texting and taking on cell phones actually work. Studies investigating that link in other states have turned up mixed results. Some found an increase in overall crash claims after laws were passed. Other studies reported a drop in crashes specifically linked to texting or a decrease in the number of people using their phones while driving where the laws were strictly enforced.

However, people who want a texting ban say that the point is to change the driving culture. Democratic State Senator Maria Sachs supports Senator Detert’s bill. Sachs says when her kids text and drive, she threatens to take off her seat belt.

“And they’re very concerned about seat belts,” said Sachs. “See, this is interesting. They grew up with having to put on a seat belt on, I didn’t. But they would never get in a car without putting a seat belt on. We need to make the same education with distracted driving.”

A growing number of people do see it as an issue. AAA reports that nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said they believe other drivers using cell phones are a threat to their personal safety.

Last year the The Miami Herald, the Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 polled 800 registered Florida voters. Of those, 71 percent said they wanted a ban on texting while driving.

Arianna Prothero is a reporter with WLRN - Miami Herald News in South Florida. You can find more of WLRN's transportation reporting at
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Making Orlando's Streets Safer for Pedestrians

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pedestrians fare better crossing low-speed streets like this one in Thornton Park, Orlando. But high-speed, multi-lane roads are more of a challenge. (Photo by Matthew Peddie)

For years, Orlando has ranked among the most dangerous metro areas for pedestrians in the nation, with roughly two injuries per day and one fatality a week. Now a coalition of pedestrian advocates, law enforcement, local government and health agencies is trying to change that, with a program called Best Foot Forward. And eight months after the program launched, there are some signs of improvement.

Transportation experts say there are three steps needed to make the roads safer for pedestrians: education, enforcement and engineering. Orlando is trying all three, but it still has a long way to go to change the culture for people on foot.

“It’s pretty abominable,” says Bill Carpenter, a volunteer collecting data for the Best Foot Forward Program. He says pedestrians haven’t had much of a voice in Central Florida until now.

Carpenter is monitoring how drivers behave at crosswalks. A pickup truck approaches the intersection of Rollins street and Camden road in Winter Park. Carpenter steps cautiously into the road stretching out one hand to point down at the crosswalk. The driver doesn’t stop.

Bill Carpenter has been monitoring "voluntary yield rates" for drivers at Orlando crosswalks (photo by Matthew Peddie)

“Motorists reactions run the gamut," says Carpenter. "There’s some that begrudgingly stop, then others that wave back at you and say thanks for waiting there for me and go on.”

This dangerous dance is repeated daily all over the city by other pedestrians.

In East Orlando, a restaurant worker  called Tony makes his way to a bus stop on South Semoran Boulevard, near Curry Ford Road.

“This intersection here, it’s crazy," says Tony. He says drivers aren't courteous. "No. They’d rather run you over.”

Badly injured pedestrians go to the Orlando Regional Medical Center, which is part of the Best Foot Forward Coalition. Last year doctors at the center treated over 400 patients who’d been hit by cars.

But there are signs the education campaign is starting to have an effect, says project manager Brad Kuhn.

“On those roads at 35 miles an hour and less, we’ve been able to take the yield rate from about one in eleven to approaching one in three.”

That means at some of the 18 crosswalks being monitored in Orlando and Orange county, more drivers are yielding now for pedestrians than they were six months ago.

Kuhn’s organization, Bike Walk Central Florida, has reached out to 88,000 households to promote pedestrian safety, and 11 Orange County elementary schools are teaching a pedestrian safety syllabus. But, says Kuhn, high-speed roads are still a problem.

“By the time you see the pedestrian, you’re already past them," he says, "which is unfortunate, because on a 40-mile-an-hour road, your chance of survival if you get hit is 15 per cent.”

Enforcement is used to back up the education campaign. Last year police and sheriff’s officers handed out more than 1,200 tickets and arrested 20 drivers for failing to yield at crosswalks.

Orlando Police sergeant Jerry Goglas says some drivers try to blame the pedestrian. “They say: “did you see the pedestrian jaywalking, why is the pedestrian in the road?” Some of them are not understanding once a pedestrian is in a marked crosswalk the driver has to yield.”

Transportation for America's map showing pedestrian fatalities around Orlando 2000-2009. (Image from the 2011 report 'Dangerous by Design')

Best Foot Forward is trying out low-cost engineering like signs and road markings-- but the coalition is also interested in something called the Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon.

It’s a small box mounted on a pole at a crosswalk. When activated, a bright LED light flashes towards the eyes of approaching drivers, signaling them to stop. In St. Petersburg, on the other side of the state, these beacons have helped cut the pedestrian accident rate in half over the last ten years.

Pedestrian advocate Bill Carpenter thinks these beacons could help in Orlando, but he says changing drivers attitudes is a long term project. “I’d hate to venture a guess, but it’s going to take longer than six or 12 months. It’s going to take a lot.”

The Florida Department of Transportation is also engaged around the state trying to make the roads safer and it’s rolling out a pedestrian awareness campaign focusing on ten counties with high pedestrian crash rates.  In the meantime, Best Foot Forward hopes its early success will eventually translate into fewer pedestrians winding up in hospital.

Listen to an audio version of this story here. And follow Matthew Peddie on Twitter here.

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Virginia to Crack Down on Texting While Driving

Monday, February 04, 2013

(Jessica Jordan -- WAMU) Texting while driving is already punishable by a $20 fine in Virginia, but it's a secondary offense, which means police can only write a ticket if they have already stopped the motorist for another violation.

[Listen to this story on WAMU.]

A bill set to be discussed Monday, would increase the fine to $250 and make it a primary offense, allowing police to stop and ticket anyone they spot texting behind the wheel.

Other legislation on the docket would make texting while driving punishable as reckless driving, which can result in up to a year in jail.

The General Assembly faces a Tuesday deadline for each chamber to act on its own bills.

[Also on WAMU: International Tensions Causing Higher Gas Prices]

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Transportation Nation

Detroit Auto Show: Big Sales, New Models, Fuel Efficiency

Monday, January 14, 2013

A 2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

(Mitchell Hartman, Marketplace)  The North American International Auto Show has kicked off in Detroit this week. Last year clearly showed the big-three U.S. automakers were back -- after GM and Chrysler got bailouts, and Chrysler also got new investment and leadership from Fiat. Auto sales were the highest since the recession began.

Facing ambitious new federal mileage standards (fleets have to average 54.5 mpg by 2025), and higher gas prices, automakers are touting ‘fuel efficiency’ at the auto show.

And no longer is it just for mid-market compacts. Even pickups, and sports cars like the new Chevy Corvette, brag on their gas mileage.

The new Corvette -- with styling like the Stingray of the 1970s, after which it is named -- came out from under the fancy tarps yesterday at the show. GM says it’ll get much better mileage than the previous version, which did 16 mpg in the city.

Many of the premier GM, Chrysler and Ford brands are now considered as reliable and well-engineered as European and Japanese performance cars -- and they tend to be cheaper.

Hybrid gas-electric car sales were up nearly 70 percent in the U.S. last year.

But automakers are also pushing higher fuel efficiency in conventional gasoline engines. They’re using lighter metals like aluminum, magnesium, and ultra-strong plastics. Also, there are ever-smarter computers in car engines that get more ‘oomph’ on a four-cylinder engine. Diesel vehicles, which can get better mileage and have become much more clean-running, are also gaining traction in the U.S. market.

One thing that’s changed from decades past, says auto analyst Paul Eisenstein The domestic car market has become truly international.

“Does Detroit still matter as the dominant player in the U.S. auto industry?” asks Eisenstein. “No. There’s competition from all over the world that’ll continue to grow.”

But Eisenstein says there’s a flip side -- GM has to compete with Hyundai or BMW here. And those companies have to take the U.S. automakers seriously abroad.

“Chevy had record sales last year -- significant enough,” Eisenstein says. “But 60 percent of their volume took place overseas. And a good portion of that took place in all the emerging markets, like China, Brazil and Russia.”

Automakers could have record profits this year, and luxury cars are expected to fly off showroom floors. This year at the auto show new luxury models are on display from Cadillac, Lincoln, Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Bentley, Audi, Acura, and Maserati.

Germany’s BMW is predicting record sales again this year. Ford is predicting luxury sales will be up 7.5 percent this year -- almost double what the company anticipates for its mass-market models.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: NORAD Tracking Santa; Wealthy Chinese Buying the "Rolls-Royce" of Bikes; Longshoremen's Strike Looms

Monday, December 24, 2012

Top stories on TN:
Vignelli, Designer of Famous Subway Map, Defends His Version Over These Others (link)
Year in Review Bay Area: Narrow Votes, New Apps and a Neighborhood Bus Ride (link)
Carmakers Developing Hi-Tech Biometric Sensors for Drivers (link)
Northern Virginia Road Expansion: Betting on Dulles Airport as Freight Hub (link)
Alexandria Street To Be Equal Opportunity For Cars, Bikes And Pedestrian (link)

A subway token booth, tricked out for the holidays (photo by Kate Hinds)

Wealthy Chinese are buying bikes that cost more than the average citizen makes in three years, motivated by nostalgia for the days when two wheels were the primary means of transport. "It's like the Rolls-Royce of bicycles. Very classical, purely hand-made," says one owner of his $16,000 bike. (Reuters)

NORAD is tracking Santa. (Link)

On some roads in Texas, bikes are banned, raising questions about just where bikers have the right to ride. “Banning bicycles from the roadway with no alternative, that’s a fight like the Alamo," says one advocate. "We can’t lose our freedom of movement." (State Impact Texas)

A subway train derailed in Manhattan on Saturday. (New York Times)

America's "Merriest Cities," as calculated by the "Grinch Conversion Index." Holla, Trenton! (Atlantic Cities)

Transportation Nation is reader-supported — make a tax-deductible donation here. Mugs, glorious mugs!

So, you want to be a flight attendant? Get in line. Delta Air Lines says 22,000 have applied for the 400 openings it expects to hire early next year.  (Marketplace)

The looming prospect of a longshoremen's strike at 15 ports from Boston to Houston as early as Dec. 30 has shippers and retailers pleading with the union and cargo carriers to avert a major trade disruption. (Wall Street Journal)

Pedestrian railroad accidents typically receive little attention, despite being the leading cause of death on the rails. (AP via SFGate)

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo was arrested and charged with drunk driving. (Politico)

Follow TN on TwitterFacebook, or Tumblr.

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VIDEO: Transportation Nation's Mug. It Can Be Yours.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Action shot from "Multi-Modal Mug" shot film by Amy Pearl / WNYC

At Transportation Nation, we serve up serious news, with flair, style, and a flash of java.

Rejoice. (And get a tax deduction, too.) You can own a Transportation Nation coffee mug.

'What's so exciting about a coffee mug?' you might ask. 'It doesn't run on a smart grid or move at the speed of a bullet train." But, friends, it is a reminder to you of all the value this site has brought you in 2012. And your donation shows our reporters here at TN that you care.

Plus, the video is hilarious. We present to you the multi-modal mug. Yours as a thank-you gift for a donation of $5 / month to our ad-free, nonprofit public media project.

If you won't donate, consider sending this around to your friends who might.

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As Gov't Considers Regulations, Autonomous Car Boosters Show Off Plans

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Google executives show off a self-driving car. January 20, 2011

(Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) It’s the heart of the morning commute. A professional pulls his laptop computer from his brief case and begins typing emails to start his work day before arriving at the office. Minutes later the laptop is set aside for the newspaper, opened wide in front of his face so he can leisurely peruse the headlines. This scene plays out on mass transit systems every morning. It would be impossible while driving a car unless one is gifted with extra pairs of hands and eyes.

In the not-too-distant future, however, drivers who now grit their teeth while gripping the steering wheel may be able to sit back, relax, and use their car commuting time productively.

Three states, Florida, California and Nevada, have legalized testing of autonomous cars already and today, the federal government made a small show of support. “The development of automated vehicles is a worthy goal,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland told a  forum in Washington. He said the government is beginning to research what safety regulations are needed for a world where cars drive themselves.

Designers of self-driving – or autonomous – vehicles are promising the technology is moving closer to reality, creating a future where crashes, speeding tickets, congestion, poor fuel efficiency, and all the stress they cause will be history.

“It gives you the freedom to do what you are already doing in the car today but unsafely.  Today people sit in the car and they are texting. We have seen people on the freeway practicing the trombone. It is unbelievable what people do in a car,” said Chris Urmson, the leader of Google’s self-driving vehicle project based in California, who spoke at a seminar on the policy implications of autonomous vehicles at the Swedish embassy in Washington on Tuesday.

The seminar’s host, Volvo, a leader in autonomous vehicle research, tests its cars in Sweden and Spain. Google tests its cars in stop-and-go traffic in San Francisco as well as freeways in the Bay Area and Nevada.

Self-driving vehicles are years from becoming commonplace on U.S. roads, so it is impossible to fully grasp the dimensions of the changes that would be caused by the technology. Because the cars are being designed to navigate traffic more safely and smoothly than any human being can, developers see a future with fewer crashes and traffic violations and with dramatically reduced congestion. That would affect car insurers, law enforcement, safety regulators, and transportation planners.

“If you look at the carrying capacity of U.S. freeways when they are at maximum throughput – the most vehicles moving by per hour – they are only using about 8 percent of the road,” Urmson said. “If you imagine a vehicle that is reacting more quickly and steering more accurately than a person, then you can pack those vehicles more closely and you can take the same infrastructure we have today and easily double the throughput on it, removing congestion completely.”

More efficient use of existing highways would ease the pressure to build new ones, allowing planners to focus finite resources on other pressing infrastructure needs, Urmson said. In practice, congestion is unlikely to vanish for any technological reason, even if capacity is increased; research consistently finds that new drivers take to the roads once traffic time drops and over time, similar congestion levels resume.

Still, the promise of driver-less cars could brig many benefits. Future motorists would not have to relinquish complete control of their cars. They would have a choice between driving themselves or letting the computers, radar, laser, and image processing technology do it for them.

“It’s no fun to be in traffic jams at all,” said Peter Mertens, a senior vice president at Volvo, referring to a scenario when drivers might be happy to let the auto-pilot take over. “But when you are on a highway maybe you really enjoy driving.”

The primary goal of autonomous vehicles is saving lives by reducing the staggering number of traffic fatalities that happen in the U.S.  Relieving congestion is one way to make driving safer.

“[Autonomous vehicles] can be closer together and they can be optimized in the way they drive. You have a very smooth flowing traffic flow and no ups and downs and radical changes,” Mertens said.

Neither Mertens nor Urmson was able to estimate what a self-driving vehicle might cost compared to a regular car, but they said the technology is likely to be introduced into the U.S. vehicle fleet incrementally. Volvo and other carmakers already install adaptable cruise control in some vehicles, for instance.

Transferring driving responsibility from a person to a machine will raise legal issues. What if an autonomous car malfunctions and crashes or just violates a traffic law? To whom would a police officer write a ticket? Google is already in talks with U.S. regulators about it's autonomous car technology.

“If there is a malfunction, we have pretty established law about what that means,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a fellow at the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford Law School. “A manufacturer or anyone else who is responsible for the malfunction will pay. The more difficult question about automated vehicles is what actually constitutes a malfunction.”

If autonomous vehicles actually do avoid crashes, auto insurers would have to adjust their rates, he said, potentially charging lower premiums to drivers who use the new technology.

“The hope in the long, long term is that insurance goes down as crashes go down. What that also means is that manufacturers end up paying a greater share of crash costs, then you could see prices for the car or navigation services increase.”

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Transportation Nation

NYC Suggests You Avoid Getting Killed By Looking Up From Your Smartphone

Thursday, September 20, 2012

NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (left) unveils new street safety campaign with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. (Crouch down, Ray, like we rehearsed.) (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The one-word street markings started appearing around Manhattan in mid-summer. An eagle-eyed TN reporter snapped a photo of one and, with no help from the city's tight-lipped Department of Transportation, deduced it was the start of a new pedestrian safety campaign.

That $1 million campaign has now been officially launched with the help of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who joined NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan at the corner of Second Avenue and 42nd Street in Midtown Manhattan to show off an oversized stencil that read "LOOK!"

That's better. (photo by Jim O'Grady.)

The emphatic order is meant to be spotted by a pedestrian with his head buried in a smartphone as he launches into traffic. The "O's" in LOOK! also double as eyeballs pointing toward a presumed onslaught of vehicles. Sadik-Khan said New Yorkers need the heads-up: more than half of those killed in city traffic accidents are pedestrians. She added that at that very corner, 75 people were hurt in crashes between 2006 and 2010.

The LOOK! markings are installed at 110 crash-prone intersections throughout the city, with 90 more to come.

LaHood said it's critical for pedestrians to remain alert while crossing the street because even when they're in the right, they can still be hurt--more than half of all New Yorkers killed last year by cars at a crosswalk had the green light. "Having the right-of-way does not guarantee your safety," he said. "Hold off on emailing or texting until you've crossed the street."

Sadik-Khan said she got the idea for the markings when she visited London and came across its well-known suggestions to "Look Left" or "Look Right" before crossing.

How London does it.

The NYC DOT isn't putting the burden of safety solely on walkers. The LOOK! campaign includes ads on the backs of buses that admonish motorists to "Drive Smart / LOOK!" Other ads tell drivers to yield to pedestrians when turning at an intersection.

A NYC DOT spokesman said the campaign is largely funded by the Federal Highway Administration.

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Transportation Nation

Texting-While-Driving Tickets Quadruple in New York

Thursday, July 12, 2012

(Photo by Kate Hinds)

Police in New York have written over 20,000 tickets since a more stringent texting-while-driving law took effect in 2011 – more than four times the amount than in the prior year.

"These tickets should send a resounding message to all drivers: keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel," said Governor Cuomo in a press release.

The law went into effect on July 12, 2011. It made driving while using any portable electronic device a primary, rather than just a secondary offense -- meaning that drivers can be stopped solely if they are found to be using such a device while driving.

When he signed the bill into law last year, Cuomo said it was "common sense — but sometimes you need law enforcement, and you need laws, to remind society of common sense and enforce common sense."

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called texting while driving "a national epidemic" and said it's responsible for about ten percent of all traffic fatalities.

A county-by-county breakdown of tickets issued before and after the law can be viewed below (source: NY Governor's Office).


TICKETS ISSUED 7/12/10- 7/12/2011

TICKETS ISSUED 7/12/2011-7/12/2012






























































































































































































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Transportation Nation

Heads Up, New Yorkers: If You Text and Walk, A New York Knick Will Hurl a Basketball At Your Midsection

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

To ensure compliance with the rules of the road, the New York City Department of Transportation is mounting a public safety campaign to make sure New Yorkers are displaying situational awareness.

Or as Baron Davis puts it in a video released Tuesday: "Hey, heads up! Come on man, pay attention!" before before nailing a phone-hypnotized pedestrian with a basketball.

Also at the receiving end of Davis's scorn: a salmoning biker and a driver who aggressively enters a crosswalk thronged with pedestrians.

Davis is a point guard with the New York Knicks. He's  currently recovering from surgery for a knee injury.

In an emailed statement, DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said the point is to raise awareness. “Whether it’s driving to the hoop or driving down the block, the cardinal rule of the road is to keep your eyes and ears open and your head up."

In addition to the video, the DOT is placing posters like the one below in bus shelters, and has distributed 250,000 coffee cup sleeves for delis and coffee shops around the city.

(image courtesy of NYC DOT)


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Transportation Nation

LaHood: Cellphone Use While Driving A "National Epidemic"

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (US DOT Photo)

US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has stepped up federal efforts to combat distracted driving, which he says are responsible for ten percent of all traffic fatalities.

The Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving, released Thursday, builds on efforts first piloted in Syracuse and Hartford. It calls for more public awareness, police enforcement, and driver education about the dangers of texting while driving. It also encourages the 11 remaining states that lack anti-texting laws to pass them.

While a recent government survey found that teen seatbelt use is up and drunk driving is down, over half of all high school seniors admitted to texting or emailing while driving.

On his blog, LaHood wrote that deaths from distracted driving are entirely preventable.  "In 2010, at least 3,092 people were killed on our nation's roads in distraction-affected crashes. That's approximately one in every ten fatalities, and we can put an end to it."

The DOT is also funding a $2.4 million pilot program in California and Delaware that will examine whether increased police enforcement coupled with advertising and news coverage can significantly reduce distracted driving.

The blueprint can be downloaded here (pdf).

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Transportation Nation

Teen Drivers Learn Dangers of Texting Behind the Wheel Through Simulation Exercise

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Texting and driving simulation vehicle in front of Houston City Hall. Photo by Gail Delaughter/KUHF

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF)   The texting and driving simulators are like the ones used to simulate drunk driving, except in this one you're constantly glancing between the computer-generated roadway on your simulation goggles, and the phone keypad you're clasping under the steering wheel.

Like in any video game, a loud crash signals you've messed up. Come to find out, I was on the wrong side of the road the entire exercise.

My simulation was conducted by Dylan Richardson with Peers Awareness, a firm that puts on simulation exercises for young drivers.  He says no one gets it right.   "All people have some type of infraction, or they will crash."

A local TV station brought along two sisters who drive race cars. Even they couldn't do it.

The event in front of Houston City Hall was sponsored by AT&T to mark the 100 deadliest days for teens to be on the road, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   AT&T Regional Vice-President Alice Aanstoos says a new driver with a smart phone is a dangerous combination, considering it takes about five seconds to look at a text.  She says the simulator ride proves to be a rude awakening for teens who think they're experts at multi-tasking behind the wheel.

"Because they realize that, again, just one split second from looking away from the road can cause troubles. We haven't seen a single person actually pass this simulator test without either some sort of accident, a wreck, or some kind of infraction."

Aanstoos says it's not just teens who text while driving. She says adults do it too, and often they're texting their own kids while sitting at a red light.

"I hear a lot of them say it's okay to just check their phone and read a text at a red light or something because they're obviously not moving, so it's okay, right?  But that's dangerous too."

You can listen to the KUHF story here.

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Transportation Nation

Decoding the Mysteries of Bay Area Traffic

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Traffic Management Center, Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Caltrans,

(San Francisco, CA -- KALW) If you added up all of the time that people in the Bay Area spend stuck in traffic, it would average out to about 40 million hours a year. It doesn’t take much to slow down traffic – accidents and construction and weather conditions all have an impact. And, there’s more than cars on the road.

Last year, a truck full of chickens overturned on 80 near Fairfield. And then there was the herd of cattle that wandered through the toll plaza on the Benicia Bridge. Not to mention all the falling ladders – that’s one of the most common pieces of debris.

But there’s a more basic issue: the Bay Area’s population just keeps growing: we’re at 7 million people and counting.

So, what do we do? What are the best strategies for getting around, and whose job is it to figure it all out? I went out on the road to learn about the art and science of traffic management.

But Ted Posey, also known as the “Super Commuter,” does traffic reports for KGO Radio in San Francisco.

“Traffic coverage is almost like a security blanket,” says Posey. “It's kind of like a personal level. Like you talk to people and it's like, 'Hey man I was in that traffic the other day that you were talking about. That was terrible!' and I'm like, yeah, I know, so was I. That was not fun. They know that I'm at least sitting there with them.”

KGO has two reporters watching the commute from airplanes, and a reporter back at the station who monitors reports from the California highway patrol. But for gritty details of what the commute is really like, they rely on the view from the ground.

So, Monday through Friday, Posey gets in his car and drives the morning and afternoon rush hours, giving live on-air traffic reports every ten minutes. He drives 250 miles a day, and spends about $200 on gas every week. Getting stuck in traffic doesn’t bother him, though. After all, his commute is his job.

On a recent Monday, I went out with Posey for the afternoon commute. Around 4:45pm we got stuck on 101-North, close to the Vermont Street exit.  We ended up sitting completely still on the freeway, watching drivers all around us check smartphones, fix their makeup, and sing. Some just stare blankly ahead.

Traffic reporters can tell you what’s happening on the road--but they can’t always tell you why. Sorting that out, and finding ways to keep traffic moving, is someone else’s job. Actually, a lot of people’s jobs: Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission all play a role. They’re all based in a building in downtown Oakland called the Traffic Management Center, or TMC.

Sean Nozzari, the Caltrans Deputy District Director for Traffic Operations says the TMC sometimes gets referred to as the “Pentagon of California.”

The TMC looks like NASA’s Mission Control. A two-story high wall shows live video of Bay Area traffic on 22 separate screens. Operators can switch views to any one of 300 different Caltrans cameras on 500 miles of freeways. And right In the middle of wall is a glowing map of all the Bay Area roadways. Around 3:30 on a recent Tuesday, they’re turning red before our eyes.

Hunched over banks of computer screens are workers from the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, and traffic and information. They’re all working together to keep traffic in the Bay Area moving – now, and in the future.

Nozzari says the TMC is a “big part of our vision for mobility in California. We monitor the highways, and at the same time, we try to figure out what all could be done in terms of future improvements.”

Everyone here is constantly watching Bay Area traffic – on the video screens, from speed detectors buried in the pavement, and from reports from highway patrol officers. They dispatch tow trucks and ambulances, update 511 information, and generally try to control the flow of vehicles using elements like changeable message signs, detection stations, and ramp metering.

But, says Nozzari, there are only so many little tricks like that – and they can’t prevent every back up.

“In California, especially in the Bay Area, we have kind of reached our limits of highway expansion,” says Nozzari. “So we have to do everything we can to maximize usage of the existing system.”

Right now, is integrating real-time data from the TMC, so you can use your computer or cell phone to figure out the best way to get where you’re going – whether that’s driving a car, taking public transit, picking up a rideshare, or riding a bike. In a couple months, they’re even going to be able to tell you where to park.


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