ROADS REPORT: Tired of drowsy driving

Nov. 13, 2014

When music and coffee can’t cut it, the kid is all right

Singing road

The state of New Mexico is teaming up with National Geographic to make speeders sing a different tune. On a stretch of historic Rte. 66 between Albuquerque and Tijeras, drivers who obey the posted speed limit will now be serenaded with “America the Beautiful.”

The effect is created using a series of specially designed rumble strips along the right side of the road. Instead of the typical monotone rumble, drivers instead hear different tones that are carefully calculated to produce the patriotic melody.

The key, however, is that the effect only works if motorists pass over the rumble strips at the posted 45-mph speed limit. Driving even a couple of miles over or under the limit ruins the tune.

To make the road sing, a local contractor put down metal plates along the road, then poured asphalt on top of them. The combination of plates and rumble strips is what produces the unique sound.

The singing road was paid for by National Geographic as part of its new show, “Crowd Control,” which debuts this month. The show uses fun experiments to change social behavior.

Route 66 is just the sixth singing road in the world. There’s one in Lancaster, Calif., that plays the “William Tell Overture,” and even one in South Korea that plays “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Stimulated driving

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 Sleep in America poll, 60% of adult drivers said they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy in the past year, and more than one-third have actually fallen asleep at the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conservatively estimates that all this fatigue results in 100,000 crashes, 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses each year.

Since musical rumble strips are usually not an option for drowsy drivers, a new study presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 2014 Annual Meeting examined the two most common remedies for driving fatigue: caffeine and music.

Twenty participants completed two-hour simulated driving sessions on three consecutive days at the same time each day. Both caffeine and music were found to help drivers feel significantly more awake, but only caffeine improved driving performance.

The researchers suspect that music is not as helpful as caffeine because it also can be distracting.

So the next time your eyelids are feeling heavy during a long drive, turn down the Taylor Swift and order up a Triple Venti Soy No-Foam Latte. Or better yet, pull over and take a nap.

From the minds of babes

The statistics on the prevalence of drowsy driving are staggering, but a ninth grader in Silver Spring, Md., may have a solution.

For her science fair project this year, Katherine Wu, 14, invented “A Driver’s Companion,” a headset device that monitors a driver’s brain waves for drowsiness.

The headset measures electrical brain-wave activity through an electrode located on the driver’s forehead. The data is then transmitted wirelessly to a credit-card-size computer that uses an algorithm Wu programmed to determine how alert the driver is. If the driver’s brain waves indicate that he or she is getting drowsy, the device alerts them with audio and light signals.

Wu’s invention has earned her a spot as a top 10 finalist in the 2014 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, and she is working with a 3M mentor to bring the Driver’s Companion to market.

Doctors take crash course

Perhaps fatigue has something to do with a recent report showing that healthcare professionals are the most accident-prone drivers on the road., a British price comparison website, analyzed 2 million insurance claims and found that the worst drivers of all are surgeons and general practitioners, one-third of whom have made an “at-fault” claim in the past five years.

But they aren’t the only medical terrors on the road. In fact, nine of the top 10 occupations responsible for the most accident claims are all healthcare-related.

On the other end of the scale, the list of professions with the lowest rate of claims was a bizarre hodgepodge of the mundane and the creepy, including office clerks, car-wash attendants, slaughterhouse workers, typists and even carnie folk. R&B

About the Author

David Matthews

David Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news for his Roads Report column since 2000. The stories are all true.