Entries in Driving (24)


Motorists Can't Face Fears, Get a Lift Across Bridge 

iStockphoto(MACKINAW CITY, Mich.) -- The Mackinac Bridge in Michigan spans five miles and is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world with the roadway soaring more than 200 feet over Lake Michigan. The bridge's dimensions provide stunning views of the surrounding landscape, but those vistas can be stomach-churning for people with gephyrophobia, or an abnormal fear of crossing bridges.

Between 1,200 to 1,400 calls are made every year to the bridge's Drivers Assistance Program that provides motorists with a crew member to drive them across if they're too afraid to drive themselves.

After the Thursday collapse of a highway bridge in Mount Vernon, Wash., the number of calls might increase with more fearful drivers wanting to be chauffeured across the Mackinac Bridge. But experts say phobias like gephyrophobia are sometimes more complicated in their origins.

Dr. Frank Schneier, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said many people who're afraid to cross bridges are also suffering from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder triggered by a fear of feeling trapped.

"They have intense anxiety symptoms or panic attacks," Schneier said. "It's not so much the idea that bridges are [going to collapse]. It's that they are places you can't escape from."

About 0.8 percent of Americans older than 18 have a form of agoraphobia, according to the National Institute of Health.

"There are techniques that can help people overcome these kinds of fears," Schneier said, citing therapy and anti-anxiety mediation as options for drivers to ease their worries.

But for those who haven't conquered their fear of crossing the Mackinac Bridge, the Driver's Assistance Program is another option. Bob Sweeney, the secretary of the Mackinac Bridge, said phone booths on either side of the bridge allow motorists the chance to call the program. Some even use it during their commute to and from work.

"There's a truck driver, who comes once month," Sweeney said. "He gets into a sleeper behind the cab and lays down for the whole trip [under a blanket]. It's amazing."

Only one crew member is available during the night shift, so a toll operator has to pitch in and drive a second car that picks up the crew member for the return trip to the opposite side of the bridge.

The Mackinac Bridge isn't the only bridge that provides the extra service for fearful drivers. A similar program exists for New York City's Tappan Zee Bridge. The New York Thruway Authority allows motorists afraid of driving across the bridge to make an appointment to be chauffeured over.

But a New York Thruway Authority representative estimated that the service is used far less than the Michigan program, likely only a handful of times annually.

Schneier said such programs to ferry scared drivers across bridges can be helpful to keep traffic moving but don't solve the core of the problem and that people should seek help if their fears become incapacitating.

"It's a patch to get the person over the bridge that day," Schneier said. "Most people, with the right kind of help, can overcome these disorders if they become debilitating."

For some people, however, even being chauffeured over the bridge is too much. Sweeney said his own brother-in-law is too afraid to drive across the Mackinac Bridge and, as a result, has never been to his home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, which is joined to the state's Lower Peninsula by the bridge.

"Surprisingly, there's a lot of people who [have this] phobia," Sweeney said. "I just found out my brother-in-law is so afraid they stay [on the other side of the bridge.]"

For an upcoming family visit, Sweeney's brother-in-law is planning to take two ferries to make the trip.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Texting While Driving Common Among Teens

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Teens frequently engage in high-risk behavior, notably sending text messages while driving, according to data from a new study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct a Youth Risk Behavior Survey every two years. Data for the 2011 survey showed that nearly 43 percent of teenagers reported texting or emailing while driving. Males were more likely to text while driving with 46 percent as compared to 40 percent of females.

Older teens were also more likely to text and drive, with 52 percent of 18-year-olds saying they had done so, compared to 26 percent of 15-year-olds.

Teens who admitted to texting while driving were also more prone to engaging in other high-risk behaviors, including drinking alcohol, indoor tanning and unprotected sex.

The study did note, however, that prohibitive legislation is effective in minimizing at least one form of risky teen behavior. In states where texting while driving is illegal, just 39.3 percent of teens admitting to distracted driving, as compared to 43.5 percent in states without such legislation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Study: Voice-to-Text While Driving Not Safer than Typing Messages

Texas A&M Transportation Institute(COLLEGE STATION, Texas) -- To combat the reported dangers of texting while driving, many new mobile phone voice control applications and products have hit the market.

Apple's Siri voice assistant and Samsung's S Voice are two apps that allow users to, among many other things, text by speaking.

But a new study has found that voice-to-text might not be any safer than type-to-text while driving.

The study, conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, found that reaction times while texting were nearly twice as slow as when drivers were not texting, regardless of whether they were texting with their voice or their fingers.

"From our experiment, the response times and amount of time looking at the roadway was about the same when texting manually or using a voice-to-text application," Christine Yager, an associate transportation researcher at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, told ABC News.

"I previously co-led a study that looked at the differences between reading versus writing text-based messages while driving," Yager said. "I became curious how newer methods of sending/receiving text messages would affect driver behavior and safety," she said.

In the study, the researchers asked 43 participants to drive 30 mph inside marked lanes on a closed course four times. The drivers were asked not to text in the first round, to send several texts via type-to-text in the second round and then several more texts via voice-to-text using Apple's Siri on an iPhone and Vlingo's voice app on a Samsung Android in the third and fourth rounds.

During the test drives, cameras tracked drivers' eye gaze, and GPS was used to record change in lane positioning. Driver-response time was measured by how many seconds it took the drivers to press a response button after a green LED light periodically flashed on the dashboard.

Drivers reported that the voice-to-text methods felt "safer," but the difference in driver reaction times when compared with type-to-text was slim to none. Texting with Apple's Siri, on average, actually produced slower response times than the type-to-text method. Response times while using Vlingo to text were the fastest, but only by a very small margin.

When texting with Vlingo, drivers spent more time with their eyes on their devices and less time with their eyes on the road, according to the study. While using Siri, drivers kept their eyes on the road more often.

The study also found that, on average, when using the voice-to-text software, the drivers took longer to complete a text than when typing manually.

Yager said that even though each participant was given time to practice using each method of texting before the experiment, voice-to-text software was still new to most drivers. "It would require additional research to determine whether any driving performance improvements would be observed from being more familiar with the voice-to-text software," Yager said.

"A way to relate this study's results to the everyday driver is that if a texting driver is watching the road less often and their reaction times are slower, then that driver is less able to take action in response to a sudden roadway hazard, like a pedestrian in the street or a swerving vehicle," Yager said.

Thirty-nine states have already outlawed type-to-text texting, but hands-free, voice-to-text remains legal in every state.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


McDonald's French Fry Bucket Makes Eating and Driving Easier

Photo Credit: McDonald's(NEW YORK) -- Eating on the go has never been easier.  Instead of having a friend in the passenger’s seat precariously pass individual fries while the driver inhales the entire container, a nifty little invention now lets drivers have their fair share.

Starting April 24, McDonald’s Japan is offering the limited-edition “potato basket” until the end of May. The red basket is designed to look like the company’s fry packaging and cleverly fits into any car cup holder or bicycle water bottle holder.

A Twitter campaign is launching in conjunction with the release of the potato basket, encouraging users to send in photos of how and where they use the new gadget.

A representative for McDonald’s says the company has no plans to launch the French fry bucket in the United States.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Could the Music You Listen to Impact Your Driving Habits? 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Driving these days is distracting enough, what with smartphones tempting you to text and chat instead of keeping your eyes on the road.  That's why, to make sure you're driving safely, the music you blast while cruising should be the kind that calms you down, not the kind that revs you up, researchers say.

According to the British paper The Telegraph, a new study conducted by London Metropolitan University found that the safest songs to listen to while driving have a tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute, around the same as a human heartbeat.   The number-one safest song for driving in the study was found to be Norah Jones' "Come Away with Me," but others in the top 10 include Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" and Aerosmith's "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." Also appearing on the list were tunes by Coldplay, Radiohead, Justin Timberlake, Bon Iver and Jason Mraz.

Surprisingly, the study also found that drivers listening to classical music drove the most erratically.  Hip-hop, dance and heavy metal made people drive more aggressively, braking harder and accelerating faster.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


'In the Blink of an Eye': Dozing While Driving

By Ron Claiborne

(NEW YORK) -- First, a confession: I have driven when I was sleepy, really sleepy.

Now, your turn. Chances are you too have driven while drowsy. Sleep researchers at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute in Hopkinton, Mass., estimate that every day 250,000 Americans drive while sleep-deprived.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures, more than 6,000 people are killed every year in vehicle accidents blamed on an exhausted driver behind the wheel. That's second only to drunk-driving fatal accidents and ahead of those attributed to driver distraction, which includes texting.

For someone operating a motor vehicle, sleep deprivation can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated.

Just one sleepless night or chronic sleep deprivation causes all kinds of problems, and not just while driving. A lack of adequate sleep affects a person's judgment, memory and emotional mood.

A recent study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association put the annual dollar figure for workplace accidents associated with sleep deprivation at $31 billion.

If you go onto YouTube you will find plenty of videos of workers snoozing on the job. They're usually played for laughs -- like the video of a New York City subway worker sound asleep while the people videotaping cackle hysterically. But being exhausted at work or while driving a car is no joke.

"Sleep is such a powerful drive," said Dr. Meir Kryger of the Yale Sleep Medicine Clinic in New Haven, Conn. "If you need it, the brain will say 'Sleep' and that can be an incredibly dangerous situation."

Experts say most people need seven to eight hours of sleep a night. If you're one of them and you aren't getting it, you could fall asleep at work -- maybe not that big of a deal if you have a desk job (aside from embarrassment if your colleagues catch you at it), but if you're operating heavy machinery or driving a 2,000-pound car at 60 miles an hour, you've got a problem.

In addition to the prospect of falling asleep, there's another, insidious phenomenon called micro-sleep that can happen when you're very tired.

Micro-sleep occurs when you nod off for a second or a few seconds, often without even being aware of it. In some instances, your eyes may even be open and you can perform a task as if on a kind of auto-pilot, but you're asleep.

"Micro-sleep is a brief transition from wakefulness to sleep and it can last up to maybe 20 or 30 seconds," said Dr. Charles Czeisler of the Liberty Mutual Research Institute. "You're awake and then suddenly you're asleep."

I wanted to learn more about the effects of sleep deprivation on driving and to experience for myself. So, an ABC News crew and I traveled to the institute's offices outside of Boston. Before we arrived, I stayed awake for 32 consecutive hours to mimic the effect of a sleepless night or chronic sleep deprivation.

At the lab, I was hooked up to a brain wave monitor and a device that tracks eye movement.

Then, I got behind the wheel of the researchers' minivan.

My assignment: to try to drive on their closed track for two hours while members of the research team rode inside the vehicle with me and studied my reactions.

As tired as I was, I still thought I would be OK. After all, I'd pulled many an all-nighter in college and many more in my years as a reporter.

But I hadn't driven 10 minutes before I felt myself fading.

The boredom of being on a closed track -- about 1/8 of a mile in length with two loops at each end -- exacerbated my fatigue. I could feel my eyelids drooping. My head started to slump. Soon, I found that I had been driving for brief stretches without any memory of it. Still, I pressed on.

About 20 minutes in, I suddenly awoke to find that I was off the track and driving on the grass next to it.

Shocked, I yanked the steering wheel and brought the vehicle back onto the road. I was scared and adrenaline was now pumping through me, bringing me to full wakefulness. It would not last long.

Soon, I was again feeling groggy and had increasing difficulty keeping the minivan in the middle of the paved road.

I was now going down a steep path toward unconsciousness but I struggled to continue. I was making the mistake many drivers make, convincing themselves they can go just a little further to their destination.

"We often delude ourselves into thinking that we decide whether or not we're going to go to sleep," Czeisler said. "'I'm just going to go another 10 miles. It's only half an hour to my house.' When you build up enough sleep pressure, you automatically make that transition to go to sleep. It can happen in the blink of an eye."

I drove an hour and then I just could not go on.

"In the words of [boxing great] Robert Duran, 'No mas,'" I said, pulling off the road and putting the transmission into park. "I'm done."

Back in the lab, Czeisler showed me just what had been going on in my brain while I'd been driving.

Pointing at the jagged lines on a chart propped on an easel, he said: "This is evidence that you're falling asleep."

He showed how my brain waves revealed the onset of sleep again and again. Then he ran a finger along the lines corresponding to my eyes blinking more and more slowly -- another tell-tale sign of the fatigue that had been washing over me.

I asked about the episode when I had run off the road.

"Yes," he said. "We could see it coming in your brain wave recoding."

He said I was asleep five or six seconds. But what truly shocked me was when he told me that I'd micro-slept a total of 22 times. I had only remembered dosing off twice.

I was lucky. I had been in a highly-controlled situation with safety precautions while driving just 15 to 30 miles an hour.

Every day, thousands of sleep-deprived Americans go whizzing along at speeds of up to 70 miles an hour. Many of them are aware they're exhausted but they are convinced -- as I was -- that they can outrace their own fatique.

Too often, it's a race they lose.

Yes, coffee and other forms of caffeine can stave off sleep, but only for a while. The only real solution: Pull over where it is safe and take a nap.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


How Old Is Too Old to Drive?

Hemera/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A driver who will be 101 in September backed out of a parking lot near an elementary school in Los Angeles, plowing into 11 people, including nine children.  Fortunately no one died as a result of the incident on Wednesday, but it highlights the challenge that aging drivers and their families face in deciding when it’s time to get off the road.

Although they only account for about nine percent of the population, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show senior drivers account for 14 percent of all traffic fatalities and 17 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found the rate of deaths involving drivers 75 to 84 is about three per million miles driven -- on par with teen drivers. Once they pass age 85, vehicular fatality rates jump to nearly four times that of teens.

Richard Nix, executive director of, says many senior drivers don’t realize their eyesight, hearing and reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be. They may be taking medication that impairs judgment, memory or coordination, or suffer from arthritis or Alzheimer’s. Consequently they may not realize it when they blow past a stop sign, forget to signal a right turn or confuse the gas pedal with the brake.

Even when they admit to themselves that they’re driving skills may not be up to par, some older drivers are still reluctant to hand over their keys. According to Nix, loss of driving privileges is a difficult and emotional issue for many.

“People have been driving their whole life and have trouble believing they’re incapable of continuing,” he said. “They feel like their independence has been taken away.”

And Nix points out, it’s frequently a difficult subject for loved ones to face as well. They may feel a pang of fear every time their elderly parent gets behind the wheel but are reluctant to confront them for fear of hurting their feelings.

Nix says that if need be enlist the help of other family members, friends or their physician when a loved one presents a danger on the road. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to take legal action, though laws vary from state to state.

Whether an elderly driver comes to the conclusion on their own that it’s time to surrender their license or they’re forced to do so, it’s a big moment and it can be devastating. But the consequences of not doing so may be even more devastating. offers the following advice for senior drivers to evaluate when it’s time to stop driving:

  • Conditions like cataracts and glaucoma can diminish sight and hamper driving ability. An eye doctor can help establish whether your sight is good enough to drive safely.
  • Many older drivers no longer have the strength or dexterity to handle a car. They may shrink in height so much they can no longer see over the windshield. This is especially true for seniors who do little or no physical activity.
  • Alzheimer’s can impair memory and judgment. Diabetics risk falling into a coma while driving. Even if you have long periods of time when health issues cause no problems, why risk it?
  • Medications, especially multiple medications, can greatly impair driving ability. Your doctor should advise you of the dangers your medications present while driving.
  • If the minor fender-benders are adding up or you simply feel less confident about driving, it’s OK to admit it to yourself that your driving days are over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Why Driving and Sleep Drugs Don't Mix

ABC News(IOWA CITY, Iowa) -- On Tuesday's World News broadcast, correspondent Lisa Stark demonstrates the dangers of driving after taking sleeping medication. She traveled to the University of Iowa, home of the most advanced driving simulator in the country, to reproduce the experience of driving while under the influence of such medication.

Watch the driving simulation experiment:

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Although the term "sleep driving" has been used to describe impaired driving due to misuse or abuse of sedative drugs like sleeping pills, the term technically refers only to cases when individuals drive while actually asleep or not fully conscious -- much like sleep walking. These individuals typically drive in an impaired or unsafe manner.

First reported in 1996, sleep driving falls under the category of "complex behaviors" that can be side effects of certain sleeping pills. Other reported complex behaviors include sleep eating, sleep sex and sleep violence.

Such complex behaviors, however, are actually quite rare. In a review from 1992-2006 reports, researchers found a total of only 14 reports of sleep driving.

A much more common concern of sleep medications is impaired driving due to misuse of these drugs. In 1999-2005, a study found that zolpidem, a common sleep medication that also is manufactured under the name Ambien, was the major intoxicant in 187 of 8,121 DUI arrests in Wisconsin -- in other words, 2.3 percent. The DUI arrests occurred at all times of the day and night, with nearly a quarter of them occurring between 8:00 a.m. and noon.

"A good safe medication that can quickly get you to sleep is on the market, but if you take it at the wrong time, that's the problem," says Dr. Mark Eric Dyken, director of sleep disorder center at the University of Iowa. "If you take it when you're supposed to be awake…it's gonna be dangerous."

This danger persists if people drive too soon after taking the drug. Package inserts on sleeping medication recommend at least seven to eight hours of sleep before engaging in activities such as driving. Because the half-life of zolpidem, for example, is 2.5 hours -- meaning 50 percent of the drug is eliminated from the body every 2.5 hours -- it should take about seven to eight hours for most of the drug's effects to leave the system. At this rate, about 97 percent of the drug is out of a person's system 12.5 hours after they take it.

The pill's developer, Sanofi-Aventis, says it stands behind the safety and efficacy of Ambien when used as directed, and there is a clear warning on the drug label that patients should receive seven or eight hours asleep before being active.

Despite this, many people may be driving before the drug is out of their system. In an American study conducted by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, zolpidem was found in 0.12 percent of daytime drivers and 0.01 percent in nighttime drivers. In a similar survey in Norway, where hours of daylight can be extremely long or short and many people use sleeping medication to manage sleep schedules, levels of a sleeping medication called zopiclone was found in 2.3 percent of drivers during weekdays and 1.9 percent on weekends.

This dangerous trend of drivers under the influence may continue, as the market itself has grown 13 percent over the last four years, to 60 million total prescriptions written for all sleep medications in 2011, contributing to a $1.6 billion market. Popular sleeping drugs include zolpidem, as well as eszopiclone (Lunesta), temazepam (Restoril) and triazolam (Halcion).

Since its approval in 1992 for the treatment of insomnia, zolpidem has been the best-selling sleep medication -- a trend that continues to climb. Prescriptions for all forms of zolpidem have increased in 29.8 percent from 2007 to 2011, with 44.8 million prescriptions written in 2011, 95 percent of which are for the generic version.

This increase in sleeping pill popularity should be tempered with the knowledge of their side effects. In 1995, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration changed the labeling of zolpidem to include warnings that the drug could increase the risk of depression or suicidal thinking. A 2008 revision of these warnings added complex behaviors, including sleep driving and hallucinations, to the label.

 Patients should also exercise caution to obtain at least the recommended amount of sleep -- seven to eight hours -- after taking sleeping pills. Any less sleep, and patients may exhibit the types of impairment that are common to sleepy drivers: poor or slow coordination, nystagmus (rapid back and forth eye movement), lack of balance, poor performance on sobriety tests, slow or slurred speech, muscle flaccidity, impaired vision, drowsy, tired, confused, disoriented appearance, and short term memory loss.

ABC News' Stark had been a great example of what happens after taking a sleep medication and driving. After three drives, she reviewed her experience, recounting her memory of two of her drives while on the medication.

"But you actually had three drives while you were on the Ambien," simulator research director Chrysler told her.

"I had three drives?" she asks. "Are you sure?"

"Yes," Chrysler confirms. "You were so asleep when we stopped that we had to wake you up in the driver's seat to get you out of the car."

"Well, I don't remember that many drives," says Stark. "I don't remember that many drives so clearly. One of them at least is a blur."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Red Light-Running High During Memorial Day Weekend

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Memorial Day weekend means time off from work, hanging out with friends and family, and running red lights.

The National Coalition for Safer Roads says that the incidence of motorists flying through red lights jumps 27 percent over the holiday weekend compared to typical weekends, based on information gathered from 142 areas in 18 states.

According to coalition president David Kelly, if the findings are spread out to all 50 states, it means there are 1.2 red-light violations every second of Memorial Day weekend -- not exactly a reassuring figure if you plan on hitting the road over the next few days.

Kelly explains that the spike in drivers ignoring red lights probably has something to do with people wanting to get to their destinations as quickly as possible. The increase in traffic, which leads to more congestion, adds to impatience behind the wheel.

The study also shows that Fridays are when most violations happen, with over three in ten occurring between the hours of 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Getting a ticket is the least of motorists’ worries if they're caught. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that during 2009, speeding through red lights resulted in 676 deaths and 130,000 injuries. Often, the fatalities didn’t involve the driver, but another driver or pedestrian who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Should Elderly Drivers Need a Doctor’s Note?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- Many older baby boomers will turn 65 this year — the largest generation of senior citizens ever to own driver’s licenses. The influx of senior drivers may make it the right time to start implementing physician-mandated screenings to check whether some are medically fit to take the wheel, say some physicians.

“The restriction of licenses throughout Canada generally occurs only after accumulation of moving violations,” Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, wrote in an editorial published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

“This approach is often too late to prevent injuries,” Redelmeier wrote.

Sixty-nine percent of Americans ages 55 and older use more than one medication that can affect their driving, according to a 2009 study by the AAA Foundation.

Graduated licensing programs that have restricted night and highway driving for young adults seem to have reduced the accident rate in both Canada and the U.S.  Redelmeier proposed similar programs for the elderly.

“The principle is to prevent trauma rather than to await a series of incidents before taking any action,” Redelmeier wrote.

But some researchers say physicians are overestimating how dangerous elderly drivers really are.

While it’s true that the older you get, the more likely you are to get in a crash, current data shows teenage drivers are far more likely to get into a crash than the elderly, according to Ezra Hauer, a professor in the department of civil engineering at the University of Toronto.

“In spite of what data show consistently, almost one-third of Canadians believe that elderly drivers are a ‘very or extremely serious traffic safety problem,’” Hauer wrote in a commentary published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

That perception may also apply to physicians who could be tasked to screen the elderly, he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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