Sunday, November 09, 2008

ARSI: Working for safer highways

Few people realize that ARSI truckers log over 925,000 miles per year while delivering 2.73 million tons of rutabagas to various destinations around North America. That's why ARSI, along with several other large shippers, was chosen to take part in an extensive study of driver behavior by the Motorized Information-Sharing Technology Survey (MISTS) at the University of Southwestern North Dakota.

The focus of MISTS was on the effects of familiar distractions reported by drivers everywhere, including the rampant use of modern technologies. The authors assumed that, "unfortunately, many drivers routinely allow themselves to be distracted from the road by hunger, boredom and the perceived need to constantly communicate with others." Reading, text-messaging, frequent laptop use, snacking and napping were by far the most common distractions reported by drivers.

Some of the results and recommendations of MISTS were surprising:
  • Some highway snacks are safer than others. French fries and potato chips, though easily consumed while still watching the road ahead, were especially dangerous. Why? "They tend to be greasy, causing the fingers to slip off the steering wheel more readily," the authors note. Pizza posed relatively few risks, especially if the crust was thicker and therefore less likely to spill hot mozzerella onto the driver's lap.
  • While there's no doubt that M&M's "melt in your mouth,not in your hand," this treat is less than ideal for snacking while driving. The reason? Drivers are likely to become distracted while groping on the seat or floor for dropped candies. Traditional chocolate bars may be safer.
  • USA Today was the safest newspaper to read while driving, while The New York Times was the most dangerous. The reason? USA Today has short articles, with shorter words, and the articles all appear on the same page. Turning newspaper pages while driving was particularly hazardous. And Readers Digest is far safer than the novels of Proust or Joyce.
  • Text-messaging and email drafting should be limited to straight stretches of the highway, with no more than five words entered at any one time. Be sure to allow a few extra seconds between yourself and the car ahead of you. Use abbreviations or acronyms where possible and do not feel that you need to respond instantly to incoming messages.
  • In another surprising finding, many drivers could nap without incident on long straightaways during periods of light traffic, provided they set an alarm to limit snoozing to no more than 30 seconds. Napping drivers should never set their cruise control at speeds higher than the limit.
  • If you're going to watch a YouTube video that's longer than 30 seconds, be sure to slow to within 10 mph of the speed limit.
In response to these findings, ARSI immediately initiated an ambitious program to retrain its drivers.

The authors of the MISTS study conclude: "While we don't want to encourage dangerous driving behaviors, we simply must recognize that many drivers will seek out distractions from the tedious chore of driving. Our goal is therefore to identify and stigmatize the most dangerous behaviors in the hope of encouraging safer driving habits."

PHOTO: ARSI delivery truck loaded and ready to roll (unmarked to discourage road piracy).


Anonymous said...

I have a miniature 6" B&W TV set that's mounted on the dashboard of my cement truck. It's placed so I don't have to look away from the road for very long while watching my favorite shows. Yet I keep getting stopped by the cops. No one can show me any law that bans watching TV while driving, yet I keep getting fined for this. You ask me, we're headed towards a fascist state.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I can get a bracket for my laptop so I can attach it securely to my steering wheel? It's hard to keep it balanced it on my lap while making panic stops in heavy traffic. I'm afraid it's going to fall on the floor and break one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Don't know about brackets for laptops, but I have a suggestion for you. If you screw a small baking pan onto the console between the front seats, it makes a very good surface for your mousepad.

Anonymous said...

Here's how I've avoided tickets for watching TV while driving: I put a good-size TV on the back seat of my car, facing forward, and watch it by turning the rear-view mirror down until I can see the whole screen. The cops will never know what you're up to!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how to hook up a small microwave oven to a cigarette lighter? I'm getting sick of cold snacks while driving.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon at 3:09,

I recently removed my glove compartment and passenger airbag and installed an all-in-one printer/fax machine/copier. I had an electrician make a direct connection to the alternator. You should be able to do the same thing with a microwave oven!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of cars, is it true that mashed rutabaga (with suitable food coloring) makes a good filler for the dings and dents in my doors and fenders?

It doesn't have to last. All I want to do is fill in the blemishes for long enough to sell my clunker at a decent price.

Thanks in advance for your help!

M.J. O'Brien said...

Dear Anon at 3:48,

Yes, what you say is quite true. But don't disparage the mashed rutabaga: it can be used to permanently repair dings and dents. Just be sure to puree it for a while to get rid of the coarse texture (which is otherwise a virtue for diners).