ROADS REPORT: Eyes on the road

The new face of distracted driving is here and it’s wearing creepy face paint and driving down the road in an airplane

Blog Entry May 06, 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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Driving out of focus

Despite stricter laws, distracted driving still accounts for 80% of all traffic accidents in the U.S.

However, new research suggests that it isn’t gadgets that are stealing our attention; it’s the other occupants in the car.

For example, a recent Australian study reports that the single biggest driving distraction is your own kids. Between squabbling siblings and fussy babies, the study found, children are 12 times more distracting to drivers than cell phones.

Grown-up passengers aren’t much better. We know that conversing with a passenger diverts significant brain power from our driving. Now a study from the University of San Diego shows that listening to that passenger talk to someone else on the phone is “much more distracting” because hearing only one side of the conversation makes our brains work even harder to understand what is being said, and that extra effort comes at the expense of our driving.

We don’t think of our GPS device as a passenger, but our communications with it are also a big distraction. In fact, a study by a UK insurance company found that drivers with GPS have their eyes fixed on the display for 12% of their total journey time, six times longer than they spent actually observing oncoming traffic.

So there you have it. Safe driving is as simple as banning kids, maps and any kind of conversation from your car.

No laughing matter
For April Fool’s Day last month, the city of Philadelphia decided to crack down on distracted driving . . . by distracting drivers.

In order to remind drivers, pedestrians and cyclists to be serious about safety, city officials thought it would be effective to place seven clowns in neon safety vests at a major downtown intersection.

The traffic clowns (volunteers from a nearby theater school) silently scolded drivers and pedestrians who seemed distracted or were otherwise ignoring safety laws.
The clowns were met with a positive reception from the public, though it’s unclear if that was out of appreciation or sheer terror.

Making lemonade
Police officer and amateur racer Jeff Bloch has created a new racing machine that can really fly . . . or at least it used to.

It all started last year when Bloch found a 1956 Cessna 310 that had been abandoned outside Washington, D.C., since 1973. Since most of the usable parts had long been stripped away, Bloch was able to pick up the remains of the six-seat, twin-engine plane for just $2,000.

Beginning in November, Bloch and his buddies spent the entire winter in his backyard merging the Cessna with a 1987 Toyota minivan chassis to create the world’s first road-racing airplane. Finished in chrome, the “frankenplane” spans 27 ft from nose to tail and can reach a respectable maximum speed of 90 mph.

Bloch named his creation the “Spirit of LeMons,” in reference to the “24 Hours of LeMons” event where he planned to debut
his creation.

LeMons is a nationwide series of endurance races for cars that were purchased, fixed up and track-prepped for a total of $500 or less. (Organizers gave Bloch a cost waiver due to the unique nature of his design.)

The Spirit debuted in March at a LeMons event in South Carolina, finishing in 65th place out of 84 cars. But LeMons isn’t just about winning. Bloch and his crew walked away with the LeMons grand prize, “Winner on Index of Effluency,” which is awarded to the team that performs the best with the most terrible car.

Bloch says he now plans to install headlights, taillights and turn signals so that he can legally drive his masterpiece around town as a street rod.

Which means that by this time next year that list of biggest driving distractions will probably include “oncoming airplanes.” R&B

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