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On-Board Device Distractions: A TSAG White Paper Abstract

Last year, an ambulance driver veered off the road, crashed into a guardrail and rolled over multiple times. The patient on board died due to injuries from being ejected from the vehicle. The driver was distracted while looking at the GPS device and trying to determine the ETA at the hospital.

Earlier in the year, a police officer ran a red light and collided with an unmarked police vehicle as he looked at the computer inside his patrol car. Fortunately, neither officer was injured.

For emergency-response professionals, driving emergency vehicles is a major component of serving the public. The vehicles transport responders and store supplies and technologies needed to perform emergency response duties

The also serve as makeshift workstations for related information gathering and documentation. In-vehicle information technologies have become essential for providing effective and timely response, and new technologies can increase the safety of both the responder and then public.

But while these new technologies support emergency operations, a potential risk arises when drivers interact with the technology while piloting their vehicles.

Driver distraction “occurs when a driver is delayed in the recognition of information needed to safely accomplish the driving task because some event, activity, object, or person within or outside the vehicle compelled or tended to induce the driver’s shifting attention away from the driving task” (Treat, J.R. “A study of pre-crash factors involved in traffic accidents.” HSRI Research Review. 1980: 10/11, 1-35).

The higher degree of cognitive workload and stress for drivers associated with emergency mode likely contributes to these crashes. Interactions with in-vehicle technologies under these conditions can further increase that workload and exacerbate the risk of errors and accidents.

Operations in emergency mode, however, aren’t the only cause for concern: anecdotal evidence suggests that the technologies increase crashes related to driver distraction under benign, non-emergency contexts as well, affecting the safety of both emergency-response personnel and other drivers on the road.

In 2012 alone, emergency vehicle crashes recorded 131 fatalities, with 46% of the crashes occurring while in emergency mode; 71% of these fatalities were occupants in other vehicles or people outside the vehicle (NHTSA: “Traffic Safety Facts 2012, A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System;” 2014a).

The Transportation Safety Advancement Group (TSAG) asked the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) to produce a white paper to explore the technologies and required interactions with those technologies inside emergency-response vehicles. This paper also explores the problems generated by high cognitive workload and distraction and how these problems impact driving performance and safety.

The report and additional information can be found on the TSAG website.

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