ROADS REPORT: Driving got you stressed?

Calm down, relax and try not to think too much about the future

Blog Entry December 09, 2013

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

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Stress test
A recent study by Audi and MIT found that driving can be one of the most stressful activities in our day.

MIT designed a series of experiments that measure stress levels associated with various activities. When the results were compared, researchers found that driving can be just as stressful as extreme sports like skydiving.

Audi hopes that the study will aid its development of driver assistance and connectivity technologies. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the effects of stress on our roads and the battle against it.

Driven round the bend
The city council in Stirlingshire, Scotland, is trying to use humor to slow down traffic and thereby reduce driver stress, but so far it seems to be having the opposite result.

On one of the main roads through town, the council decided to replace the center-lane divider with a wavy one. Along with corresponding red indentations down the sides of the road, the lanes now resemble a brain-wave graph of a semiconscious person, which isn’t too far off from the state that residents believe the council must have been in to approve such a measure.

A local farmer told the Scottish Daily Record, “It is an absolute waste of money that could have been better spent elsewhere, such as fixing potholes.”

A disgruntled 68-year-old woman added some local flavor: “It’s completely daft. Some older people used to try to follow the lines and it drove them potty.”

The council’s official explanation is that the lines are part of a speed-reduction measure intended to “influence driver behavior and encourage a reduction in vehicle speed.”
However, not everyone in the council agrees. “In common with many residents, I find the wiggly lines to be not only ineffective but also look stupid,” Councillor Ian Muirhead sugarcoated. “Many people have said it just looks like the lines were painted by a drunken road worker.”

What’s the meaning of it all?
There’s never a good time for your car to break down, and that’s why auto repair can be one of the most stressful aspects of driving.

Compounding the issue is new research showing that 98% of motorists don’t understand what all the warning and information lights on their dashboard mean.

For example, 71% of motorists do not recognize the tire-pressure warning light, with 25% thinking it had something to do with the oil or brakes.

And 35% of drivers do not recognize the airbag warning symbol, with 27% mistaking it for a seatbelt warning.

Making things even worse is the fact that warning-light symbols are not universal, varying between manufacturers and even individual car models.

Despite not understanding their car’s cry for help, most drivers admit they continue driving for an average of 12 days after a warning light comes on before having their vehicle serviced.

Brave new world
Perhaps the most stressful aspect of driving is the one that we have the least control over: other drivers.

We all know that distracted driving is the new drunken driving, causing more than 800,000 crashes already this year. And while that statistic includes drivers who were reading, eating or grooming, the fastest-growing culprit is technology.

And now there’s a newcomer to the field. In October the California Highway Patrol pulled over software developer Cecilia Abadie in San Diego for speeding, but when he noticed Abadie was wearing the new Google Glass eyewear, he added what is believed to be the first-ever citation for “glassing and driving.”

Google Glass is a wearable hands-free computer that looks like a pair of glasses, but without the frames. It displays information in a thumbnail-size transparent display screen in the upper-right corner of your line of sight. For now, Google Glass is only available to beta testers like Abadie, but it’s expected to be a big seller when it hits retail shelves next year.

Abadie admits that she had the device on, but said that she wasn’t using it when she was allegedly clocked driving 80 mph in a 65-mph zone.

She’s considering fighting the ticket on the grounds the Google Glass is no different than any other hands-free device, and in some ways might actually be safer.

Still, if this is what driving in the future will look like—motorists with one eye on the road and another in a virtual reality—skydiving might actually feel like a safer way to commute to work. R&B

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