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BlackBerry cuts made roads safer, police say
October 18, 2011 7:00 PM   Subscribe

ABU DHABI // A dramatic fall in traffic accidents this week has been directly linked to the three-day disruption in BlackBerry services.
posted by hippybear (50 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Note: The precise statistics for traffic accidents in the two emirates this week were not revealed to The National.
posted by vidur at 7:08 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very disturbing and frustrating; it's clear that the use of consumer electronics by drivers is an incredible public danger, but what are the effective mitigation strategies? Unenforc(ed | able) laws? The only truly effective thing would be, I think, a major change of hearts and minds, but really, there is just no way to knock the idea into people's heads that no you are not the unitary magical super genius Driver of Steel. Truly, almost every driver I know thinks that distracted driving is bad in theory but somehow has nothing to do with their own habits. Maddening.
posted by threeants at 7:09 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here in Vancouver, I'd be happy if they just made it illegal to text while operating an umbrella on the sidewalk.
posted by mannequito at 7:16 PM on October 18, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's as if people think that phone use while driving is only distracting to the impure of heart, rather than possessing any, you know, inherently dangerous qualities.
posted by threeants at 7:17 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


BlackBerry cuts made roads safer, police say

The same Abu Dhabi and Dubai police who were pressuring RIM to allow access to customers emails and messages? Funny that. Guess they didn't get all they wanted.
posted by formless at 7:20 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm amazed that in Abu Dhabi Blackberries are affordable even to mere chauffeurs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:29 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Texting while driving isn't so bad; try texting through motorbike gloves. The secret is to keep three fingers on the throttle, hold the phone against the brake fluid reservoir and tap the keys with your left hand. Of course then you have to change gears without the clutch, but then that's the price of connectivity---and you get the occasional texting-wheelie while you're at it.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:31 PM on October 18, 2011 [16 favorites]


It's not just texting while in the car: adjusting the air conditioning, radio, fiddling with GPS... anything that takes your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel is potentially fatal.

It's evolution of vehicle safety in action. The end goal is to get as much automation in the car as possible, and where manual controls are needed, to use voice commands. I've heard it said that speaking and hearing use very different parts of the brain to the visual / mechanical centres, that is why you can navigate heavy traffic while carrying on a conversation with the person next to you, but trying to TEXT on your Blackberry while in heavy traffic is a lot harder.

I'm using a very new model car, and the difference it makes is pretty astounding. The car controls the rain-wiper and headlights automatically based on moisture / optical, so I don't even have to touch that. Voice control works flawlessly for controlling the air conditioning, radio, phone, sound system. It's automatic now for me to ask to car to turn the radio on or change the temperature, rather than look down and fiddle with the controls, and I feel it helps my driving awareness a great deal.

Apple, as usual, is blazing ahead with Siri - expect the same technologies to enter cars. Some models can already intercept incoming text messages and read them out to you. With Siri-like integration, you'll be able to read out a message as a reply, ask it how to get to the nearest Chinese restaurant, tell you how traffic is like.

Will it take many years? Of course it will, just like how safety improvements take years and years to be fully standard on the cars on the road - some people are still driving their 12 year old beaters. But ultimately that's how the danger of texting on the road will be solved - not through regulation, because people will always flout the laws - but by creating safer ways for people to stay in touch.
posted by xdvesper at 7:39 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm no fan of texting while driving, but seriously? This is a perfect example of post hoc ergo propter hoc.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:12 PM on October 18, 2011


Maybe they have the causation reversed. Maybe a dramatic fall in traffic accidents caused the Blackberry outage.

Think about it.
posted by brain_drain at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2011 [14 favorites]


My company has had a complete bad on phones (including hands free) and texting in cars for years. If they can recognize that it's not worth the risk, why can't everyone else?

Norway has a complete ban and we all seemed to survive the lack of communication until we got safely home. Distracted driving should be treated as the same as drunk driving and the penalties should be the same.
posted by arcticseal at 8:20 PM on October 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am a larger fellow, and I have stopped moving out of the way of people texting and walking right into me, it's kind of funny actually.

Still run scared from the drivers/texters though.
posted by edgeways at 8:20 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


xdvesper- Those safety improvements will take years to be fully standard amongst higher end luxury models. When automation is standard and not removable as a cost-cutting measure in the cheapest of vehicles that are street legal, then we'll see a real standard. That could take quite a while longer. Even then, so help us all when the automation fails and people insist on figuring out manual operation while driving.
posted by Saydur at 8:22 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Texting while driving isn't so bad; try texting through motorbike gloves.

If you have a touchscreen phone just sew a couple stitches with conductive thread in fingertip of your gloves and and mount your phone on you handlebar yoke with velcro.
posted by the_artificer at 8:29 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


mount your phone on you handlebar yoke with velcro

But that's where the DVD player is
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 8:38 PM on October 18, 2011 [23 favorites]


Twenty-three years ago, a friend who lived a 40-minute drive away from me called me to say that he was in the act of committing suicide. I had to get off the phone to drive over there, 40 minutes of radio silence. I was indeed absolutely distracted.

At the beginning of this year, a family member who lived a 40-minute drive away called me at 6pm on a weekday to say that she was in the act of committing suicide. I was on the phone the entire drive, with her, then after she passed out, with her neighbors, then after she was picked up, I knew what hospital they were taking her to, and could go straight there. (I hope I didn't drive too badly.)

When I see people driving badly, and also on the phone, I think about how beautiful it is that you can talk to someone while hurtling towards them physically at 60 miles an hour. Sometimes that's so good, it's up there with fire, the wheel, and antibiotics.

That said, it were illegal (as it is in California) it wouldn't stop those in these kinds of situations, but it might deter random Facebook updaters or whatever.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:41 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Texting drivers scare the living shit out of me. It's annoying being stuck behind them in traffic - they tend to drive slowly or accelerate and decelerate at random intervals, and they also tend to drift between lanes.

That's the frightening part. I can see a texting driver when I'm behind them; I can't always tell if there's one oncoming, or if there's one in the lane behind me.

I know of at least one motorcyclist who was very badly injured when an oncoming driver drifted into his lane because she was texting. Please, please, please don't do this.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:08 PM on October 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


omg organ donor lol
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


hnnnnnnnnng


I'm blue abu dhabi dubai



lurk for four years; pay $5 just to say that.
posted by Joviwan at 9:36 PM on October 18, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's evolution of vehicle safety in action....Voice control works flawlessly for controlling the air conditioning, radio, phone, sound system. It's automatic now for me to ask to car to turn the radio on or change the temperature, rather than look down and fiddle with the controls, and I feel it helps my driving awareness a great deal.
--xdvesper

I'm not convinced.

I can change stations and the volume on my older-model car radio without taking my eyes or attention off of the road. Most of these new electronic dash cars have computer controlled LCD screens with menus.

Menus! To be used by a driver driving a 2 ton vehicle down the road at up to 80mph (over 100 feet per SECOND).

You need to take your eyes off the road to press the menu button, then the menus change, so you look again, to figure out what is displaying, and where to press next.

Many actions require several levels of menus, which means several seconds of eyes off the road which translates into several hundreds of feet driving completely blind.

You say voice control, but this is what I see for the cars I've looked at. If they really want safety in these new cars, have the LCD shut off as soon as the car starts moving, so voice control is the only choice. If voice control is that good, then no one will complain about it. Right?

Safety schmafety...these new cars only make things worse.
posted by eye of newt at 10:08 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think people text because it's pretty obvious when you have a phone pressed to your ear. Texting is worse that talking on the phone though.
posted by titanium_geek at 10:35 PM on October 18, 2011


Where I live, at least, talking while driving was outlawed a before texting while driving. I kind of assumed that this was because it was obvious that texting while driving is unsafe, like eating a hamburger or putting on makeup while driving. But you can convince yourself that talking while driving is OK.
posted by hattifattener at 10:40 PM on October 18, 2011


Those safety improvements will take years to be fully standard amongst higher end luxury models. When automation is standard and not removable as a cost-cutting measure in the cheapest of vehicles that are street legal, then we'll see a real standard. That could take quite a while longer. Even then, so help us all when the automation fails and people insist on figuring out manual operation while driving.

I'm an optimist at heart. I know it will take years, but we will get there eventually, especially as this is a real safety issue. It took years for seatbelts to be standard. In fact, in the early days, it was considered an insult to put on a safety belt, because it implied you thought the driver was unsafe.

Look at where we are now - you can hardly buy a new car without an airbag restraint system, electronic stability control / anti lock bracking systems.

All these features were "high-end" at some point, and have cascaded down to the lowest and cheapest models. Australia for example has made electronic stability control mandatory on all cars.

You say voice control, but this is what I see for the cars I've looked at. If they really want safety in these new cars, have the LCD shut off as soon as the car starts moving, so voice control is the only choice. If voice control is that good, then no one will complain about it. Right?

I agree that expecting users to navigate a menu while driving is a horrible idea. It should be shut off while the vehicle is in motion. And while we're on that note, getting rid of the instrument cluster completely would be even better - the first thing people do when they enter a school zone is take their eyes off the road to look at their speedometer to make sure they're not over the speed limit. Talk about stupidity designed into the whole system.

Voice control has been getting better at an incredibly quick pace - a 2011 car is noticably more accurate than a 2009 car for example - and 2012 and 2013 cars will have Siri-levels of voice recognition. I think Siri more than anything else will drive innovation in this area, once people get used to the idea to talking to a machine.
posted by xdvesper at 10:56 PM on October 18, 2011


Australia for example has made electronic stability control mandatory on all cars.

Holy crap - I hope Wolfsburg has produced an aftermarket addon for a 1966 Beetle.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:08 PM on October 18, 2011


That car should be scrapped due to emissions alone.
posted by ryanrs at 11:12 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Afraid we may have to put our prudish, "rational," "cars should drive on all four wheels" discussions aside for a moment. Some cursory Youtubery leads to the conclusion that most Emirati drivers have extra time on their hands, and their cars aren't always operated according to the owner's manual. The linked videos appear to be filmed using cellphone cameras. Could they have been BlackBerry camera-phones?

∴ All drivers in Abu Dhabi work IT/network support for RIM, and were burning the midnight oil (not the petrol kind) trying to fix their phone connectivity issues so they could get back to filming themselves driving.
posted by obscurator at 11:13 PM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not just texting while in the car: adjusting the air conditioning, radio, fiddling with GPS... anything that takes your eyes off the road and hands off the wheel is potentially fatal.

To paint using the phone the same shade of distracting as adjusting the AC or radio is a wide miss. Cell phone usage generally causes one to be more driving impaired than legal intoxication. While adjusting the AC does allow for a mild distraction from the road, it is not even in the same league as cell phones. Barely even the same SPORT.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:19 PM on October 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


While adjusting the AC does allow for a mild distraction from the road, it is not even in the same league as cell phones. Barely even the same SPORT.
--FatherDagon

That used to be the case, but no longer:

Trying to make routine adjustments for the air-conditioning that once were achieved with a button, took paging through menus and taking your eyes off the road for unacceptable lengths of time.


I like xdvesper's suggestion of a Siri type intelligent voice recognition system. I want it now.
posted by eye of newt at 12:33 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


2012 and 2013 cars will have Siri-levels of voice recognition

As long as it has flashing red LEDs on the front too. I'll start growing my mullet now.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:00 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


2012 and 2013 cars will have Siri-levels of voice recognition

It had better be a lot better than my 2009 Accord that kept switching the AC off when I tried to change radio stations. It took my fake Texan drawl to make it work even part of the time - "AC on, y'all!"
posted by arcticseal at 1:07 AM on October 19, 2011


I was a passenger on a motorbike in a small city in China last week. The bicycle/ebike/motorcycle lane we were in was very narrow and fenced off. During rush hour, this lane resembles a Tour de France peloton more than anything else.

The person in front of us was riding his motorcycle while having an animated discussion with his girlfriend - on the phone. So was the person directly behind us; next to him, a young teenager on a lightweight ebike was starting to doze off and almost veered off onto the pavement.

As mentioned upthread, Norway had a complete (and enforced) ban on this kind of activity while operating a vehicle. I was uneasy with my partners in traffic, to say the least.
posted by flippant at 3:03 AM on October 19, 2011


I can change stations and the volume on my older-model car radio without taking my eyes or attention off of the road. Most of these new electronic dash cars have computer controlled LCD screens with menus.

Yep! The biggest sin in automotive interface design is modal controls that require you to establish state before you know what it does.

My Volvo (2011 C70) gets this right and wrong. Many of the controls are completely non-modal. Defrost, front and rear. The window and top controls. The controls on the stalk. The control to control where the climate system is going to blow. You can adjust the fan with a dedicated knob, or you can push the button in the middle of that knob to put it on climate control.

Some are glance-state. The heated seats are controlled by dedicated buttons, but they have three states (hi-lo-off) so you need to glance at the light at times. The temp set on the climate control has a mode button, so you need to glance to see if you're setting left, right or both zones. Thankfully, it puts the current state up on the larger display up top.

Then we get to the nightmare that is the radio and bluetooth. Thankfully, once you have programmed stations, you can zip through them, and control volume, from the steering wheel, but anything else is pretty much buried in menus, and worse, since the main pad is built to act as a phone dialer, you get some seriously odd controls (forex, the Auto button changes what is displayed on the 2nd line of info when you're using satellite radio. This makes perfect sense, if you are completely insensible.)

The iPod integration? Oy, Vey! It works, and sounds great, but they could not have made it more annoying and still functional. I will not start it on the move -- it isn't safe.

I've heard they've completely redone the thing in the 2012 S60/XC60 line, which will migrate across. I hope they can get the media controls down to the usefulness of the climate controls. It's not untrue to say that the radio controls are as bad as the climate controls are good.

But, still -- on the whole, I can work most of the car completely by touch. I tried driving a BMW 5 series recently, with iDrive, and you can't do anything without looking at the screen. Nightmare.

It turns out that the iPhone 4S has a win-win -- Siri works with the bluetooth interface in the . So, I put the phone in the center, button up, and can now call someone, if need be, without looking down -- which I don't do often, but "five minutes from the airport" is a useful call. I theoretically can reply to text messages, but I'm still very uncomfortable even trying. I know how I focus when I'm at a keyboard*, and the thought of even trying a voice interface with text scares me.

Apparently, the absolute loser in UI design in a car is the current Maserati Quattroporte**. Then again, if you're taking phone calls or listening to the radio while driving one, you should lose the right to drive it. :-)


* You've all seen some of my replies, right?

** Such a romantic name, until you realize it means "four doors." But my god, what a good looking car, and what a sound!
posted by eriko at 4:20 AM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was on the phone the entire drive, with her, then after she passed out

Um, that is a sucky situation(s), and you have my sympathy (and I get the impulse), although, if you had hit another car or pedestrian while doing, that would not have helped a) the person you were rushing to see, b) you, or c) the people you endangered/injured/killed while doing that, who may have been on their own missions of mercy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:24 AM on October 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


The only truly effective thing would be, I think, a major change of hearts and minds, but really, there is just no way to knock the idea into people's heads that no you are not the unitary magical super genius Driver of Steel.

It worked for drunk driving.
posted by DU at 4:28 AM on October 19, 2011


Driver distractions are the leading cause of most vehicle crashes and near-crashes. According to a study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), 80% of crashes and 65% of near-crashes involve some form of driver distraction. The distraction occurred within three seconds before the vehicle crash!
According to the NHTSA and VTTI study, the principal actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle crashes are:
cell phone use.
reaching for a moving object inside the vehicle.
looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle.
reading.
applying makeup.
posted by adamvasco at 4:52 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


UbuRoivas: "I'm amazed that in Abu Dhabi Blackberries are affordable even to mere chauffeurs."

I bought iPhones for my chauffeurs. Texting on an iPhone improved their driving.
posted by Splunge at 6:23 AM on October 19, 2011


I would like to apologize for the appalling grammar in my comment above. I did not do it while driving, however.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:50 AM on October 19, 2011


I don't think you can take this article seriously.
posted by empath at 6:52 AM on October 19, 2011


I've heard it said that speaking and hearing use very different parts of the brain to the visual / mechanical centres

That's true, but only sort of.

We did an fMRI study where we put people in the tube and had them do a task/game whereby they track objects in the field of view. When the task was novel, lower order parts of the brain handled it, but once they learned it, the Visual part of the brain did it, with a huge increase in efficiency, speed and accuracy.

Then we interefered with that region using transcranial magnetic stimulation. What happened was sort of surprising.

You know when you're driving a down a road trying to find an address, and you turn down the radio ?

Well, we found that when we interfered with the visual part of the brain, the audio part took over. This suggests that when the visual part is overloaded, the audio part helps out with processing. Anecdotal evidence suggests this, and we're working on developing studies to see this effect in action.*

All of this is to say that voice controls are no panacea, especially absent a standard control scheme.

If you want drivers to be attentive, they need to not overload and overestimate their abilities. Good luck with that.

* Certain things simplified greatly for brevity. The use of "we" denotes researchers that I work with some measure of assistance from me and my co-workers. Offer void where prohibited.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2011 [3 favorites]


It worked for drunk driving.

Yes, it mainly works because other people make sure you don't do it, regardless of your own stupid impulses. With texting, you'd have to convince people who are not in cars to refrain from calling or texting people who are driving, and convince passengers to take the phone away from phoning or texting drivers (without causing an accident in the scuffle) just like they would take the keys away from a drunk.

Which is to say that it could happen, but only if you could convince almost everyone that it's stupid to phone or text while driving, and that won't be nearly as easy as it was to convince people that a drunk guy shouldn't be driving.

One thing that might help: parents could buy phone plans that prevent their teen drivers (the most dangerous drivers on the road and the biggest chatters and texters) from phoning or texting in a moving car, regardless of whether they're driving, except for emergency calls to certain numbers such as 911 and from any number if the caller agrees to pay an emergency fee and agrees that the parents will be notified of the call. Otherwise, you would leave a message that can be checked the next time the car is parked. If that got people to drive less and sit still (or walk) more, then good.

Maybe you could work out some sort of plan involving insurance companies, such that you get lower car insurance rates if you buy such a phone plan. You could try to scam a plan like that by using a second phone in someone else's name, but then that would be insurance fraud and get you the punishment that insurance fraud gets you (hello, jail).
posted by pracowity at 7:49 AM on October 19, 2011


Causality is not causation, blah, blah, blah, but my prior on this being a causal effect is pretty damn high.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2011


We did an fMRI study where we put people in the tube and had them do a task/game whereby they track objects in the field of view. When the task was novel, lower order parts of the brain handled it, but once they learned it, the Visual part of the brain did it, with a huge increase in efficiency, speed and accuracy.

It's my subjective impression as well as through casual observation that conversing on a telephone intensely engages parts of the mind/brain that are usually used for modeling the ongoing traffic flow around you to anticipate and defend against potential dangers. It would be interesting to see if this was supported by appropriately designed fMRI studies.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:21 AM on October 19, 2011


BlackBerry has 44% market share in UAE, so if all the celular networks went out then the accident rate in Dubai should drop by 91%
posted by Lanark at 10:07 AM on October 19, 2011


Phones are bad enough that people institute bans. But there are other dangers. My sister called me a few days back, shaking... she and her 2-year-old daughter had just narrowly missed being crushed by some imbecile driving an SUV with three individual TV screens in his view. He never even noticed her little VW Beetle, just pulled into traffic and nearly caused a serious accident.

You ban phones but nobody bans assholes from watching TV while driving? Makes sense to me.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:28 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


With texting, you'd have to convince people who are not in cars to refrain from calling or texting people who are driving, and convince passengers to take the phone away from phoning or texting drivers (without causing an accident in the scuffle) just like they would take the keys away from a drunk.

Oh, I straight shame people if they start screwing with their phones while driving the car I'm in. "Don't fucking text and drive, that's idiotic. Give me the phone and I'll send whatever's so important."

Of course, my roomie also made me a replica of Pat's 'didn't you get the memo' bumper sticker, so I'm a bit hardline about the whole thing.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:28 AM on October 19, 2011


Frankly I think the biggest distraction problem in Abu Dhabi stems from all the cute kittykats being shipped there by angry, fatter kitties.

But seriously, the thing that boggles me about people driving and talking on their cell phones is less regarding their shitty driving, and more towards who or what they're talking to for so long. I talk on the phone a grand total of maybe 5 mintues per week, how the fuck do these people have this much to say?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:15 PM on October 19, 2011


I talk on the phone a grand total of maybe 5 mintues per week, how the fuck do these people have this much to say?

You obviously are not a current or recent teenager. I bet you use your phone for exchanges like:
Someone else: "Pick up some bread on the way home."
You: "OK." *click*

Whereas a current or recent teenager wants to know where everyone else is right now, what they're doing right now, what they're doing later tonight, who they're going there with, what they did last night, what they're watching, what they're listening to, what they think of so and so, etc. Multiply that by the number of friends the kid has and by how many times the kid has to check again later to get an update of exactly whowhatwherewhenwhyhow and apparently you get, per month, three or four thousand sent or received text messages and six or seven hundred minutes of talking.

The constant barrage of incoming messages just has to be answered immediately, not a half hour from now, if you want to keep up socially and avoid offending people who expect immediate responses from everyone, so it's damned hard to get kids to stop using their phones long enough to drive from one place to another.
posted by pracowity at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2011


caution live frogs: most (all?) states ban TVs visible by the drivers when driving, but people install them anyway.
posted by theclaw at 1:14 PM on October 19, 2011


I am not convinced that making all elements of phone use voice controlled is as safe as banning the use of phones. I've observed too many people standing around using their mobiles and too many seem to be in a little world of their own, wandering in different directions, random sudden turns. I'm not saying that being on the phone means drivers make sudden unpredictable turns, but that there is clearly some issue with people in aphone conversation having the fullest awareness of the world around them.
posted by biffa at 1:16 PM on October 19, 2011


But it's people of all ages! Women at the grocery store, dudes in pick up trucks, assholes of all kinds with those stupid bluetooth things! Then again, I've always been somewhat anti-social: I use "sorry I was driving" as an excuse as to why I didn't answer the phone most times.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:15 PM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


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