Driven to Distraction: The Danger in your Display Panel

For years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been pushing for tighter set of guidelines to address the growing problem of driver distraction.  They point to the growing problem on our country’s roads: technology-induced distracted driving. We all know about the ‘hands-free’ rules that have been in effect in most states for the past eight years or so, but a car’s central display panel, where the car’s climate control, audio controls, entertainment settings, navigation and communications all take place, packs just as much computing power as a smartphone, but has no regulatory oversight. In other words, fiddling with a car’s display is just as distracting for a driving as engaging with your smartphone.

A new study released by AAA shows just how dangerous and distracting ‘Infotainment Systems’ in new cars can be. Indeed, with Wi-Fi connectivity, email and text functionality, climate and navigation features, the average driver needs more time searching for and finding the buttons and dials they want to interact with. Researchers at AAA and the University of Utah developed a rating scale to measure the visual (eyes off road) and cognitive (mental) demands and the time it took to complete a task experienced by drivers using each vehicle’s infotainment system. The scale ranged from low to very high levels of attention demand. A low level of demand equates to listening to the radio or an audiobook, while very high demand is equivalent to trying to balance a checkbook while driving. AAA believes a safe in-vehicle technology system should not exceed a low level of demand. The problem, of course, is that consumers are asking for the latest and greatest technology in today’s new cars, so auto manufacturers are trying to find the balance.

Dr. David Yang is the executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and a major contributor to the research. He said, “Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road by increasing the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel. When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete.”

“These are solvable problems. By following NHTSA’s voluntary guidelines to lock out certain features that generate high demand while driving, automakers can significantly reduce distraction,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of Traffic Safety Advocacy & Research. “AAA cautions drivers that just because a technology is available while driving does not mean it is safe or easy to use when behind the wheel. Drivers should only use these technologies for legitimate emergencies or urgent driving-related purposes.”

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Bicycle Safety Depends on You

The warm days of May prompt millions of Americans to pull their bicycles out of their garages, dust off the cobwebs, oil the chains and go for a ride. But the sad fact is that riding a bicycle can be dangerous. The number of bicyclists killed or injured each month is truly staggering, and children are often the victims. To help curb bike injuries and fatalities, AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have partnered to remind parents to set positive examples and encourage children and teens to ride safely. One key is to require children to wear safety helmets.

“Helmets, when worn properly, are up to 85 percent effective in protecting the head and brain in the event of a crash,” says AAA’s Traffic Safety Specialist Rhonda Markos. “With only 20 to 25 percent of bicyclists wearing helmets, there is a vast opportunity to reduce injuries and fatalities with this simple step. Children look to parents for guidance. When children see someone they rely on wearing a helmet, they are likely to follow their lead and do the same.”

You should also remember that concern about bicycle safety should extend beyond childhood. The simple fact of reaching puberty doesn’t protect people from possible injury. According to NHTSA, among children, 10- to 14-year-old males have the highest rate of injuries and fatalities. Older teenagers and adults are also part of overall bicycle accident statistics.

“Even the most experienced riders can crash or fall when riding a bike,” says Markos.

AAA and NHTSA recommend these easy steps to help keep bicyclists of all ages safe:

  • Wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet
  • Wear your helmet the right way: level on your head and low on your forehead, no more than two finger-widths above your eyebrow
  • Develop a family rule for helmet use and enforce it for every ride
  • It’s never too late to start wearing a helmet
  • Always follow the rules of the road
  • Bicycles are considered vehicles and must abide by the same traffic laws as motorists
  • Obey all traffic signs, and signal your intentions when turning or passing
  • Always ride in the same direction as traffic, keeping to the right
  • Make yourself visible
  • Wear bright colors during daylight hours
  • Use white front-lights and red rear-reflectors, as well as reflective materials on clothing and/or equipment, in low-light conditions
  • Drive respectfully and share the road
  • Focus exclusively on the road while driving; distracted drivers can be deadly for bicyclists
  • Be patient and pass bicyclists only when safe to do so, leaving a 3-to 5-foot clearance between your vehicle and the bicyclist

“When it comes to bicycling, safety is always the top priority,” says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Because parents and caregivers are role models for children, it is especially critical they teach by example. That means wearing proper helmets and observing all the rules of the road.”

Get Your Armor On

Ronni Chasen was beloved by the Hollywood community -- and when she was murdered on her way home from a movie-premiere party in swank Beverly Hills, it sent a shock wave that is still reverberating. The seemingly senseless act of violence -- her car was struck by numerous bullets presumably fired from another car -- has added a new level of fearfulness in a moneyed society that was already wary of follow-home robberies and celebrity stalkers. One outcome of the crime is an increased demand for armored vehicles. International Armoring Corporation -- the leader in armored passenger vehicles based in Ogden, Utah -- has experienced a 150-percent demand increase in the wake of the shooting. Most of that increase has come from California, a state that already was a leader in armored vehicle sales due to concerns about drug trafficking on its shared border with Mexico. Both public figures and private individuals looking to increase their families’ safety are taking a new look at armored vehicles.

If you think today’s armored cars are much like the ones Al Capone was chauffeured in during the Roaring Twenties, think again. Current state-of-the-art armoring uses high-tech, relatively lightweight materials -- and because of that, virtually any vehicle can be armored to protect passengers of these vehicles from high-powered handgun (like the one used in the attack of Ronni Chasen) or rifle attacks. International Armoring Corporation uses a proprietary material it calls Armormax, which adds less than 400 pounds to a fully-armored, handgun-protected vehicle. At first, the cost for vehicle armoring might not seem inexpensive. Prices begin at $5,800 for a fully armored vehicle door -- which includes curved, original-looking ballistic glass window -- and many clients request that all four doors be armored. But when one considers what is at stake, $25,000 or so seems a small price to pay. Rather than buying a from-the-ground-up armored car, most U.S. clients now transform their own vehicles. Installation usually takes five to 10 days.

“Armored passenger vehicles in the U.S. are no longer just for the rich and famous. Gone are the days of feeling it will never happen to me,” says Mark Burton, CEO of International Armoring Corporation. “These vehicles can provide a peace of mind to anyone who feels a perceived threat. These converted vehicles maintain their original appearance and performance, yet protect occupants against those random acts of violence that appear more common every day.”

Prior to the Chasen shooting and the increase of violence along the border of Mexico, most of the demand for armored vehicles had come from offshore. Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines and the Middle East have all been vibrant markets for armored vehicles -- something that might give you second thoughts about them as vacation destinations. But recent events in the U.S. have caused Americans to reevaluate their personal safety at home. As tragic events become headline news, the demand for armored vehicles increases. It is an area of safety that, thankfully, few of us have had to worry about -- but that might be changing.

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Parking Safe This Holiday Season

It happens every year at this time: Two motorists battle over a rare parking space in a crowded mall lot, tempers flare and actions spiral out of control. The holidays are no time for violence, especially over something as inconsequential as a parking space.

Unfortunately, the hustle and bustle that make this such an enjoyable time of year can also spawn temper tantrums and prompt opportunistic criminals to look for distracted holiday shoppers who may be easy targets for vehicle break-ins, carjackings and other auto-theft-related crimes. So there’s more to this season than ho, ho, ho!

One organization trying to put a stop to such mayhem is Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (H.E.A.T.), Michigan's statewide auto-theft-prevention program. H.E.A.T. coordinates citizen action with law enforcement agencies through a confidential, toll-free tip line (800-242-HEAT) and website (, and the lessons it teaches are as apropos in New Jersey or California as they are in its home state.

“The holidays are a joyous time of year filled with family gatherings and gift giving,” says Terri Miller, director of H.E.A.T. “But with overflowing parking lots and vehicles filled to the brim with purchases, the holidays are also a dream for car thieves.”

Follow these expert tips to make sure you’re careful and prepared while shopping this holiday season:

  • Stay alert and watchful in parking lots. While walking to your car, take a moment to observe your surroundings. Distractions such as talking or texting on cell phones, digging for keys or juggling multiple packages can make you an easy target.
  • Park in well-lit, high-traffic areas. Try to avoid shopping alone after dark. If possible, also avoid parking near objects that block your view of the surrounding area such as Dumpsters, bushes, large vans or trucks.
  • Place valuables and purchases in your trunk or otherwise out of view. Before leaving your car, make sure anything of value is locked in the trunk or out of sight.
  • Remember where your car is parked. Walk directly to your car and don’t spend unnecessary time wandering around the parking lot. Walk confidently and with purpose.
  • Move your car after putting your items inside. If you return to your car to drop off bags in the middle of a shopping trip, move to another area of the parking lot, even if it means giving up a prime spot. This will deter any thieves who may have seen you unload your purchases and then leave to continue shopping.
  • If threatened by a carjacker, give up the car immediately. Any attempt to resist or argue with the robber can turn a theft into a life-threatening situation. Your well-being is more important than any vehicle, and you should be aware that most carjackings involve a weapon. If you witness an auto theft or carjacking, call the police immediately.


An Unexpected Road Hazard

One morning Erma Marshall was in such a hurry that she was unable to eat breakfast. When she was behind the wheel of her car later that day, she began sweating and feeling faint. As her condition deteriorated, her vision became so blurry that she could not see her cell phone to call for help. With great difficulty, she was finally able to pull over to the side of the road safely. Had she been drugged or struck by some weird virus? No, Marshall is one of 26 million Americans who have Type 2 diabetes. Her symptoms were both predictable and, in her circumstance, unavoidable. Fortunately they did not result in a fatal crash, though her driving abilities were so impaired that they easily could have. The cure was not the administration of a miracle drug. Instead, Marshall ate crackers and drank juice to bring her blood sugar back up to the proper level.

For Marshall, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1990, the experience was a wake-up call, and she shared her story with others to help educate them about the potential dangers of low blood sugar and what can be done to help prevent it from occurring. What even longtime diabetics might not know is that traveling can interfere with blood sugar management and lead to low blood sugar levels, which can cause serious complications -- like loss of consciousness -- if not treated quickly. Of course, loss of consciousness while driving can have deadly consequences. According to a recent survey conducted by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), 37 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have experienced low blood sugar when driving or traveling.

While many diabetes patients recognize the importance of controlling high blood sugar, they may not know the risks of extremely low blood sugar. Six percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have had to go to the emergency room at some point as a result of low blood sugar. Even when the reaction is not that extreme, more than half (55 percent) of patients with Type 2 diabetes have experienced an episode of low blood sugar. The most commonly experienced symptoms are shakiness (91 percent), sweating (76 percent) and dizziness (75 percent). About 1 in 5 (21 percent) have needed assistance from others -- not good if you are alone driving a car.

What can you do to avoid the possibly dangerous effects of low blood sugar? ACE suggests packing more snacks, drinks and blood sugar testing supplies than you think you will need, so that you are prepared in the event of travel delays. If you are taking a long car trip, test your blood sugar before leaving. If it is 70 mg/dL or below, eat or drink something that will raise it quickly, and wait until your blood sugar is back to normal before getting behind the wheel.

While traveling, research nearby restaurants and grocery stores so you know your healthy options for meals and snacks.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are aware that you have to take and keep control of your blood sugar level. The important thing to remember is that this is more critical than ever when you are driving a car.