Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

Gas-saving tips & myths: Test-based advice for improving fuel economy

As the summer travel season rolls in, prices at the gas pump are usually going in the wrong direction for our wallets. That’s when drivers become more concerned about how to squeeze the most miles from their fuel dollars and keep their cars running their best.

To help you stay in the know, here are some common questions that our auto experts often get asked about gas mileage and related topics:
What’s the best way to cut fuel costs?

Slow down. In our tests, we’ve found that driving faster on the highway can really take a bite out of your car’s fuel efficiency. We measured gas mileage while driving at a steady 55, 65, and 75 mph in a Honda Accord, Toyota RAV4, and three versions of a Ford Fusion, including a hybrid. The drop in fuel economy while going from 55 to 65 rangedfrom 4 to 8 mpg. Upping the speed from 65 to 75 cut it 5 to 7 mpg more. Overall, speeding up from 55 mph to 75 is like moving from a compact car to a large SUV.

What if I need to carry stuff on my car’s roof?

Carrying things on the roof increases aerodynamic drag, which hurts fuel economy. When we tested a  2013 Honda  Accord at a steady 65 mph, it got 42 mpg with nothing on the roof. Adding even an empty bike rack dropped the mileage by 5 mpg, to 37. A wind deflector reduced the wind noise but cut gas mileage to 35 mpg. And with two bikes on the rack, gas mileage dropped to 27 mpg, a whopping 15-mpg difference overall. Similarly, when we tested a  2008 Camry with a large car-top carrier, fuel economy dropped by 5 mpg.

Does running the A/C hurt fuel economy compared with opening the windows?

It depends on how hard the air-­conditioning system has to work. When we measured the fuel-economy difference in a  2008 Ford Focus, Honda  Accord, and Subaru Forester, we found that fuel use with the  A/C running went up with higher outside temperatures.  At 55° F, there were negligible differences. But when we measured again on days when the temperature was in the low 70s and high 80s, we got fewer miles per gallon with the  A/C on. In general, expect 1 to 4 mpg less with air conditioning.

How far can I go when my low-fuel warning light comes on?

There is no set rule, but most cars have a reserve of between 1 and 2 gallons of gas when the light goes on, or enough to travel about 40 miles or so at a moderate speed. To maximize those last couple of gallons, we suggest slowing down and maintaining a steady pace.

Can I improve gas mileage by installing a special air filter?

With modern cars, changing your air filter probably won’t improve your fuel economy. When we tested a car to see whether a dirty air filter hurt its gas mileage because of reduced air intake, we found that the car’s acceleration was hurt but not its fuel economy. The engine’s computer automatically compensated for the restricted airflow by reducing fuel use to maintainthe right air /fuel ratio. We expect similar results from any air-filter change.

Can running on empty hurt my engine?

Some people think that can draw in debris from the bottom of the fuel tank, but it’s not really a big concern. That’s because the fuel pump always pulls in gas from the bottom of the tank, even when it’s full. So if there is a debris problem, you’ll probably know about it long before the fuel level gets low. These days, there’s usually a fuel filter in the gas tank as well as one nearer the engine, so debris is unlikely to get through to your engine. If your tank contains junk, though, you might have to change the filters more frequently.

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2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 Diesel Review

Twenty-five years ago, the first diesel-equipped Dodge Ram pickup went on sale. Then, twenty years ago, Dodge made the pickup world sit up and take notice with the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup; its big-truck styling, thoughtful cabin, and generally state-of-the-art design transformed an also-ran model with a 7% share into a major player, with an 18.5% share at the end of August 2013. Significantly, from the crash in 2009 to the end of 2012, Ram achieved the highest growth of any American pickup.

For 2014, these trends converged as Ram became the only American full-size pickup line with diesel engines across its entire range.

A group from the Texas Auto Writers Association met the newest Rams on a hazy morning at Ventura Farms in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains about 43 miles northwest of Los Angeles. They were all there: the new Ram 1500 with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine; the new 2500 with the five-link coil suspension; the 3500 with a demonstration version of supplemental load-leveling air suspension, and an assortment of ProMaster commercial vans.

The event kicked off with presentations of the new technologies. The keynote speaker was Ram CEO Reid Bigland, whose speech was liberally sprinkled with the phrase “best-in-class.”

Kevin Mets, head of Ram Heavy Duty Pickup Engineering and Greg Corey, from Ram Power Engineering, gave us a briefing on the new technologies, including watching a pre-production prototype of the big Ram’s suspension. A Ram 3500 was hooked up to a gooseneck trailer loaded with a 19,841-pound Case-IH 140 tractor. A pole with a moving arrow showed the height of the rear wheel opening. As the trailer’s landing gear was retraced, the arrow moved down as the truck took on the load. The new air suspension kicked in and the arrow slowly moved back up to its original position.

While diesels and new suspensions took most of the limelight, Kevin Mets introduced the new truck-specific 6.4-liter HEMI engine. In addition to best-in-class 410 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, the new engine can be equipped with dual alternators to support heavy electrical loads.

After the briefing, it was time to pick a truck and head out. I picked a Ram 2500 4×4 with a manual transmission and fewer bells and whistles. Kimberly Shults, the Chrysler Communications rep for the Southwest Region, came along as the navigator.

I have often wished that manufacturers would offer more “real world” vehicles in their media fleets, especially in trucks that are more likely to be purchased for their work capabilities than the level of bling. The company seemed to agree: the Ram 2500 was set up as a fleet buyer might take it. Even without the extras, the Ram 2500 was very comfortable and the coil suspension worked exactly as advertised, delivering a ride superior to light-duty trucks from Ford and GM, including the new 2014 Silverado.

To test handling and maneuverability, we headed out on Protero Road to Westlake Boulevard, a boulevard in name only. Westlake is a narrow road with no shoulders, but enough twists and turns to give a snake a conniption fit. It heads up a mountainside and then comes back down, where we picked up Mulholland Highway, another twisty two-lane with delusions of grandeur.  Even when the lanes narrowed down to being barely wide enough for the exterior mirrors, the Ram was able to stay in-lane through the turns.

If you’re going to take a big truck up a mountain, it would be hard to beat that silver Ram 2500. The Cummins diesel provided plenty of power and the smooth-shifting six-speed made the nearly constant gear changes easy; it had a fine clutch feel despite the high torque.

Seating was comfortable enough for a solid day’s driving; supportive without being too firm. Truck seats have come a long way since the last pickup I owned.

Mulholland Highway deposited us on the Pacific Coast Highway, a real highway this time, where we paused at one of California’s many beaches to stretch our legs, take some photos and change drivers. The return route to Ventura Farms was less dramatic and we enjoyed a comfortable ride.

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Nissan Altima named a “Top Rated Vehicle” by

Nissan Altima sales continued to soar in March, achieving the best sales month since March 2013, and now potential buyers have yet another reason to select Nissan’s top-selling vehicle. Today, named the 2014 Nissan Altima a “Top Rated Vehicle” following a road and test-track evaluation by the publication. This honor is only given by to vehicles earning an “A” – equivalent to an “Excellent” rating.

The Testing Team evaluates about 200 vehicles a year.  Each one is driven on a standardized road-test loop and undergoes instrumented testing in controlled conditions at the’s test track. Time behind the wheel is used to develop ratings to grade how each vehicle stacks up against its direct rivals in a particular size and price class. Following’s assessment, the 2014 Nissan Altima was among the top in its class.

“Coming off the successful launch of the redesigned Altima in the 2013 model year, we were determined to keep momentum going for the 2014 model,” said Dan Mohnke, vice president, Nissan Chief Marketing Manager & Marketing Operations. “A number of enhancements, such as the addition of Mobile Apps to the NissanConnectSM connected car services and enhanced noise isolation, position the 2014 Altima to compete well among the best midsize sedans on the market. Year-over-year sales gains in February and March, coupled with awards like this top rating from, show why consumers continue to pick Altima when in the market for a new car.”

The 2014 Nissan Altima, the centerpiece of the Nissan lineup and one of the top selling cars in the U.S., offers a premium exterior and interior and driver-focused technology. Its many attributes include outstanding fuel economy of 38 mpg highway (2.5-liter engine only) and an outstanding balance of ride comfort, handling and a fun-to-drive demeanor. Altima is offered in seven well-equipped models to meet a range of needs and budgets – and with a choice of a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder engine or 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. Both engines are matched to a smooth, efficient Xtronic transmission.

To view’s full list of Top Rated Vehicles of 2014, please visit

Nissan develops first “self-cleaning” car prototype

ROLLE, Switzerland – Washing a car can be a chore – and a costly one at that. In response, Nissan in Europe has begun tests on innovative paint technology that repels mud, rain and everyday dirt, meaning drivers may never have to clean their car again.

The specially engineered super-hydrophobic and oleophobic paint, which repels water and oils, has been applied to the all-new European market Nissan Note to create the world’s first self-cleaning car.

To assess the real-world effectiveness of the super-hydrophobic as a potential aftermarket application, engineers at Nissan Technical Centre Europe will be testing the self-cleaning Note over the coming months in a variety of conditions.

Nissan is the first carmaker to apply the technology, called Ultra-Ever Dry®, on automotive bodywork. By creating a protective layer of air between the paint and environment, it effectively stops standing water and road spray from creating dirty marks on the car’s surface.

So far, the coating, which is being marketed and sold by UltraTech International Inc®, has responded well to common use cases including rain, spray, frost, sleet and standing water. Whilst there are currently no plans for the technology to be applied to the model as standard, Nissan will continue to consider the coating technology as a future aftermarket option.

“The Nissan Note has been carefully engineered to take the stress out of customer driving, and Nissan’s engineers are constantly thinking of new ways to make families’ lives easier,” said Geraldine Ingham, Chief Marketing Manager for Nissan Note. “We are committed to addressing everyday problems our customers face and will always consider testing exciting, cutting edge technology like this incredible coating application.”

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New Fours Coming…

Recently, Ralph Gilles commented that a new family of four-cylinder engineswas coming to Chrysler in around eighteen months— just in time for the refreshed Dodge Dart.

Allpar has confirmed with informal company sources that the head of SRT and Chrysler racing was not simply referring to turbocharged “WorldEngines,” but was indeed speaking of a brand new line of engines. So far we have not had many details on their origins — whether they are based on the Pentastar V6 design, or grew fromFiat or Alfa Romeo designs, or were created completely in a “clean sheet” fashion, though it seems likely that they will carry some Pentastar influence and characteristics.

The engines have definitely been designed with forced induction in mind, and we have been told that one turbocharged version should bring at least 240 horsepower. This is not a great feat in 2014, depending on the displacement; the Caliber SRT4, long gone now, was rated at 285 horsepower, and even back in 1991, theDodge Spirit R/T’s 2.2 turbo was pushing out 224 horses.  Still, a drivable, economical 240 horsepower would be welcomed in a car the size of the Dodge Dart, which currently maxes out at 184 hp.

Following their use in the Dodge Dart, we would expect the new engines to be used in the 200, and, if fuel prices should rise, the turbocharged versions may displace or be added to V6 power plants in  other vehicles as well. Perhaps the day of the turbocharged minivan may eventually return?

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The fate of Charger R/T AWD

In the past, Dodge has combined the Hemi engine with all wheel drive (AWD) for better launches and improved rain and snow handling in the Charger R/T AWD. Indeed, for 2014, even police cars were made available with the combination of Hemi and AWD. For 2015, however, AWD is being restricted to V6 cars.  This led to speculation about whether the issue was lack of space, drivetrain weakness, or scheduling — whether the V8/AWD combination was going to be available, but later.

Allpar’s Jim Choate contacted Ralph Gilles, SRT and motorsports chief, and asked for the reason. Mr. Gilles replied that the issue was a “very low take rate” — few customers chose the combination of V8 and all wheel drive. Mr. Gilles’ guess was that “most V8 lovers like a good powerslide once in a while,” adding that Dodgedoesn’t officially endorse such behavior.

So far, there has been no word about what the police can expect from the 2015 Dodge Charger. Most likely, the V6/AWD combination will be available to compete with Ford’s AWD cute-utes, and the five-speed automatic will be dropped; through 2014, the five-speed was the sole transmission available for police cars, even with the V6. Reliable source oh2o suggested that the police might even be able to get a Hemi AWD combination.

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Apps for parents curb distracted teen drivers

Marty Williams recalls the conversations he and his wife would have with their two daughters about the dangers of talking and texting while driving.

“It’s always a concern,” said Williams, who lives in Howard County. “We just drilled it into their heads over and over until they said ‘Okay, we get it,’ and when we saw something [about the dangers of drivers texting] on TV we made sure they saw it, too.”

Parents like Williams have good reason to worry.

Half of teens say they talk on a cellphone while driving, a third say they swap text messages, and almost half say they’ve been a passenger in a vehicle with a teen driver whose phone use put them at risk, according to federal statistics. Teen drivers are more likely to get into a fatal crash than anyone under the age of 80, in part because their brains are still developing the system that evaluates risk.

These days, however, there’s an app for that, several of them, in fact. There are apps that prevent mobile-device use while driving, and some of them alert parents or employers when a user tries to beat the system. They’ve emerged on the market as alarm grows over the carnage caused by distracted driving.

More than 3,300 people die and 420,000 are injured annually in crashes attributed to distracted drivers. But those numbers may be low because, other than a driver’s admission of fault, it’s a challenge to prove that distraction caused a crash.

Among all drivers involved in fatal crashes, teens were the most likely to have been distracted, National Highway Traffic Administration data show.

“They feel invincible,” said Jurek Grabowski, director of research at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “They have large social networks and they want to stay in contact with them.”

Conversations on the go, texting, surfing the Internet and taking selfies are such a habit among teens that studies show they underestimate the risk. Teens make up a significant percentage of the approximately 660,000 drivers who are having phone conversations or manipulating electronic devices while driving at any given moment during daylight hours in the United States.

And most teenagers who chat, text or surf while driving are breaking the law.

The District and 37 states — including Maryland and Virginia — ban novice drivers from talking on the phone while driving. The three local jurisdictions and 41 other states bar all drivers from sending and receiving text messages while driving. But respect for those laws is akin to that given the speed limit.

“We need to almost turn this thing into a brick,” David Coleman said recently, holding up his cellphone while sitting in a Bowie Starbucks. “It can’t just be about texting. It has to be about e-mail, Facebook and no inappropriate calls.”

Coleman is marketing director for Louisiana-based Cellcontrol, one of several companies competing for the chance to shut down people’s mobile devices while they’re driving. Most of the companies that sell cellphone service — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and others — also provide apps that can limit access.

Many of the apps are triggered when a GPS sensor detects that a vehicle is in motion, and some — such as AT&T’s DriveMode — will alert parents or employers when the app has been turned off or disabled. Independent experts consider that a feature buyers should look for.

“Especially for younger drivers. As clever as you can be, they will be more clever,” said Leo McCloskey, a tech guru for the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. “The best way to do it is to integrate the device with the vehicle so that you could have more fine-grained control.”

That fine-grained control means that parents or employers can select the features they want to allow their drivers to use and block those that worry them.

“It’s important to have a solid oversight function so that use can be monitored by a fleet manager or parent,” said Russ Rader of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “Cellcontrol is one of the better, most complete systems. TeensSafer is another one that we’ve looked at that works pretty well. These products are going to be the most useful for fleet operators and for parents trying to control phone use by their driving teens. Both Cellcontrol and TeenSafer will report attempts to tamper with or override the system.”

Businesses that send fleets of cars, vans or trucks onto the streets have shown increasing interest in those products, as juries have issued multimillion-dollar rewards to those injured or killed by distracted drivers who were on the job.

Systems integrated into the vehicle are triggered when the car or truck begins to move.

“We’re not guessing based on a satellite, we’re depending on the vehicle to tell us,” said Cellcontrol’s Coleman as he spent a morning demonstrating his company’s product in Prince George’s County. “Otherwise, how do I know you’re not on a Greyhound bus or on a plane that has landed and is taxiing to the gate?”

Cellcontrol provides two options for connecting to a vehicle. One is a device the size of an EZpass transponder that is glued to the windshield with the same adhesive material used to secure rearview mirrors. The more sophisticated choice plugs in to a vehicle’s diagnostic computer port. The $129-system works with iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and Windows Mobile.

The system involves an app that is downloaded to the phone of the driver — teenager or employee. The key to the system is software that can be installed on a home computer, tablet or mobile device that allows an authorized person — parent or boss — to customize what the driver is permitted to do, and to monitor compliance.

“We’re not blocking the signal, we’re allowing a protective policy to be brought into the device,” he said. “The administrator has the option to make the policy as restrictive as possible, or not.”

For example, phone use could be restricted to a hands-free device. Or calls could be restricted to an emergency number or a parent or office.

Or parents could attempt to mandate that all passengers in the car driven by their teenager download the app.

“You could decide this is the kids’ car and we don’t want knuckleheads sitting in the passenger’s seat showing the driver YouTube videos,” Coleman said.

Coleman demonstrated how his phone was pre-programmed to go into safe mode when he drove, but when handed to a passenger it was fully operative. A second phone he brought along went into safe mode when the car was moving, regardless of whether it was in his hands or those of a passenger.

Acknowledging that parents are dealing with a technology-savvy generation and that employers exist in a technologically smart world, Coleman said, “We’ve built in some traps and fail-safes to notify the parent or employer.”

McCloskey said that companies like Cellcontrol that provide integrated services are “where we need to go.”

“The operating system of the phone itself can interact with the operating system of the vehicle in such a way that services can be authorized, services can be presented, and services can be consumed all in a safe and predictable manner,” McCloskey said.

Although he is concerned about distracted driving, McCloskey thinks it as a relatively short-term problem.

“The irony, frankly, is that in the medium to long term, as autonomous vehicles really start making a mark, all this goes away as a concern,” he said.

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Lease a 2014 Dodge Charger or Challenger Now, Swap It for Updated 2015 Next Year

Dodge has introduced a program that allows customers to sign a 12-month lease on a 2014 Charger sedan or Challenger coupe, then return in a year and get the same payment on a three-year lease—with no added money down—on the significantly refreshed 2015 model.

If customers want to purchase their 2015 at the end of the 36-month term, they’ll receive $1000 bonus cash toward the transaction.        

The heavily updated 2015 Charger sedan and 2015 Challenger coupe bowed this week in New York, and Dodge says the deal applies to any 2015 Charger excluding the SE and SRT models, and any 2015 Challenger except the SRT. Furthermore, customers can even switch from the Charger to the Challenger, or vice versa, which could come in handy if your life changes drastically (kids on the way, etc.).

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Top 9 Most Fuel-Efficient Trucks for 2014

2014 truck of the year2 copy

For the past several years, the best-selling vehicle in the nation has been a pickup. It’s not difficult to understand why Americans love trucks. Pickups offer the kind of unassailable utility that makes them a natural fit for anyone who frequently hauls outsize cargo.

Certain trucks offer another benefit: outstanding fuel efficiency. The nine models shown offer the best gas mileage in the segment. Our list is shorter than the usual 10 due to a shrinking talent pool. GM’s hybrid trucks made appearances on last year’s list, but for 2014, GM has dropped these hybrids from its lineup.

Our list this year includes fuel-efficient gas-only models like the Nissan Frontier, Ram 1500 and Toyota Tacoma. Note that each model is allowed just one appearance on our list, for its most fuel-efficient powertrain.

Each vehicle’s ranking is determined by its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined fuel economy rating. The EPA’s combined fuel economy rating is based on miles-per-gallon ratings for city and highway travel, using the following formula: 55 percent of city mpg rating plus 45 percent of highway mpg rating.

1. Toyota Tacoma — 23 mpg combined (21 city/25 highway) (tie)

1. Ram 1500 — 23 mpg combined (20 city/28 highway) (tie)

2. Nissan Frontier — 21 mpg combined (19 city/23 highway)

3. Chevrolet Silverado 1500 — 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway) (tie)

3. GMC Sierra 1500 — 20 mpg combined (18 city/24 highway) (tie)

4. Ford F-150 — 19 mpg combined (17 city/23 highway)

5. Honda Ridgeline — 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway) (tie)

5. Toyota Tundra — 17 mpg combined (16 city/20 highway) (tie)

6. Nissan Titan — 15 mpg combined (13 city/18 highway)

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Understanding the distracted brain

Why driving while talking on cell phones is risky behavior

Many people know texting while driving increases crash risk. But cell phone conversation while driving is also risky. Talking on hands-free or handheld cell phones requires the brain to multitask – a process it cannot do safely while driving.

To explain what happens to the human brain when talking on cell phones while driving, NSC has a white paper, “Understanding the distracted brain: Why driving while talking on hands-free phones is risky behavior:”

Below is the article “Understanding the distraced brain: Why Driving while talking on hands-free phones is risky behavor:”

In January 2004, at 4:00 p.m., in
Grand Rapids, Michigan, a 20-yearold
woman ran a red light while talking
on a cell phone. The driver’s vehicle slammed
into another vehicle crossing with the green light
directly in front of her. The vehicle she hit was not the
first car through the intersection, it was the third or
fourth. The police investigation determined the driver
never touched her brakes and was traveling 48 mph
when she hit the other vehicle. The crash cost the
life of a 12-year-old boy. Witnesses told investigators
that the driver was not looking down, not dialing the
phone, or texting. She was observed looking straight
out the windshield talking on her cell phone as she
sped past four cars and a school bus stopped in
the other south bound lane of traffic. Researchers
have called this crash a classic case of inattention
blindness caused by the cognitive distraction of a
cell phone conversation.

Vision is the most important sense for safe driving.
Yet, drivers using hands-free phones (and those
using handheld phones) have a tendency to “look
at” but not “see” objects. Estimates indicate that
drivers using cell phones look but fail to see up
to 50 percent of the information in their driving
environment.1 Distracted drivers experience what
researchers call inattention blindness, similar to
that of tunnel vision. Drivers are looking out the
windshield, but they do not process everything
in the roadway environment that they must know
to effectively monitor their surroundings, seek
and identify potential hazards, and respond to
unexpected situations.2

Today there are more than 320 million wireless
connections in the U.S. And although public
sentiment appears to be turning against cell phone
use while driving, many admit they regularly talk
or text while driving. The National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration estimates that nine percent of
all drivers at any given time are using cell phones,
and the National Safety Council estimates about one
in four motor vehicle crashes involve cell phone use
at the time of the crash.

Cell phone distracted driving has become a serious
public health threat. A few states have passed
legislation making it illegal to use a handheld cell
phone while driving. These laws give the false
impression that using a hands-free phone is safe.
The driver responsible for the above crash was on
the phone with her church where she volunteered
with children the age of the young boy who lost his
life as the result of her phone call. She pled guilty to
negligent homicide and the lives of two families were
terribly and permanently altered. Countless numbers
of similar crashes continue everyday.

This paper will take an in-depth look at why
hands-free cell phone use while driving is dangerous.
It is intended that this information will provide
background and context for lawmakers and
employers considering legislation and policies.

Motor vehicle crashes are among the
top two causes of injury death throughout
a person’s lifetime.3 They also are the No. 1 cause
of work-related death.4 Annually, more U.S. soldiers are
killed in crashes in privately-owned vehicles than all
other Army ground casualties combined.

Each year since 1994, between 32,800 and 43,500
people have been killed in motor vehicle crashes.

That’s more than 737,000 lives lost during these years.
It includes people inside and outside of vehicles, as well
as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians who were
struck by vehicles. There are activities people tend to
think are riskier than driving, such as flying in an airplane,
but consider this: The lives lost on U.S. roadways each
year are equivalent to the lives that would be lost from a
100-passenger jet crashing every day of the year.

In addition to the thousands of fatalities, many more
people suffer serious life-changing injuries in motor
vehicle crashes. More than 2.2 million injuries resulted
from vehicle crashes in 2010.

To reduce this toll, prevention must focus on the top
factors associated with crashes. Driver distractions
have joined alcohol and speeding as leading factors
in fatal and serious injury crashes. The National Safety
Council estimates 21 percent of all crashes in 2010
involved talking on cell phones – accounting for 1.1
million crashes that year. A minimum of three percent of
crashes are estimated to involve texting.

Cell phone use has grown dramatically over the past 15
years. In 1996, cell phone subscriptions covered only
14 percent of the U.S. population; by 2011, that had
grown to 102.4 percent.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
estimates that at any point during the day, nine percent
of drivers are using cell phones. More than two-thirds
of respondents to a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
survey reported talking on cell phones while driving during
the previous 30 days.11 Nearly one in three admitted they
engaged in this behavior fairly often or regularly.

Because text messaging has grown dramatically – an
almost 10,000-fold increase in 10 years – and because
there is already near-public consensus that it’s a
serious driving safety risk, texting receives a great deal
of attention. More than one-third of people admitted
to reading a text or email while driving in the past 30
days, and more than one-quarter admitted to sending
a text or email.12 Although texting is clearly a serious
distraction, NSC data show drivers talking on cell
phones are involved in more crashes. More people are
talking on cell phones while driving more often, and
for greater lengths of time, than they are texting. Thus,
in 2010, an estimated minimum of 160,000 crashes
involved texting or emailing, versus 1.1 million crashes
involving talking on cell phones.

Cell phone distracted driving has captured the attention
of nation’s political leaders and employers and they are
taking action:

-In December 2011, the National Transportation
Safety Board recommended that all 50 states
and the District of Columbia enact complete bans
of all portable electronic devices for all drivers –
including banning use of hands-free devices.

– While no state yet prohibits all drivers from any
cell phone use, as of March 2012, 31 states
prohibit teen drivers from any cell phone use,
including handheld and hands-free.

– The Federal Government has taken action.
President Barack Obama issued an Executive
Order banning federal employees from texting
while driving. Rules about employee use of cell
phones while driving have been issued by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration,
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and
Federal Railroad Administration.

– A National Safety Council membership survey
showed employers of all sizes, sectors and
industries are implementing employee policies
banning talking and texting while driving.

– Public opinion polls show a majority of the
public support these efforts.

But there’s a troubling common thread
to these prevention efforts:
– Nearly all legislation focuses on banning only
handheld phones or only texting while driving.

– All state laws and many employer policies allow
hands-free cell phone use.

– Public opinion polls show people recognize the
risks of talking on handheld phones and texting
more than they recognize the risks of handsfree

– Many drivers mistakenly believe talking on a
hands-free cell phone is safer than handheld.

A hands-free device most often is a headset that
communicates via wire or wireless with a phone, or
a factory-installed or aftermarket feature built into
vehicles that often includes voice recognition. Many
hands-free devices allow voice-activated dialing
and operation.

Hands-free devices often are seen as a solution
to the risks of driver distraction because they help
eliminate two obvious risks – visual, looking away
from the road and manual, removing your hands
off of the steering wheel. However, a third type of
distraction can occur when using cell phones while
driving – cognitive, taking your mind off the road.

Hands-free devices do not eliminate
cognitive distraction.

The amount of exposure to each risk is key. Crashes
are a function of the severity of each risk and how
often the risk occurs. Most people can recognize
when they are visually or mechanically distracted
and seek to disengage from these activities as
quickly as possible. However, people typically do not
realize when they are cognitively distracted, such as
taking part in a phone conversation; therefore, the
risk lasts much, much longer. This likely explains
why researchers have not been able to find a safety
benefit to hands-free phone conversations.

The National Safety Council has compiled more than
30 research studies and reports by scientists around
the world that used a variety of research methods,
to compare driver performance with handheld and
hands-free phones. All of these studies show handsfree
phones offer no safety benefit when driving. Conversation
occurs on both handheld and hands-free phones. The cognitive
distraction from paying attention to conversation – from
listening and responding to a disembodied voice –
contributes to numerous driving impairments.
Specific driving risks are discussed in detail later in
this paper. First, let us look at why hands-free and
handheld cell phone conversations can impair your
driving ability.

Multitasking: A brain drain

This section provides the foundation to understand
the full impact of driving while engaging in cell phone
conversations on both handheld and hands-free
phones. It explains how cognitively complex it is to
talk on the phone and drive a vehicle at the same
time, and why this drains the brain’s resources.

Multitasking is valued in today’s culture, and our
drive for increased productivity makes it tempting to
use cell phones while behind the wheel. People often
think they are effectively accomplishing two tasks at
the same time. And yes, they may complete a phone
conversation while they drive and arrive at their
destination without incident, thus accomplishing two
tasks during the same time frame. However, there
are two truths to this common belief.

1. People actually did not “multitask.”
2. People did not accomplish both tasks with
optimal focus and effectiveness.

Multitasking is a myth. Human brains do not
perform two tasks at the same time. Instead, the
brain handles tasks sequentially, switching between
one task and another. Brains can juggle tasks
very rapidly, which leads us to erroneously
believe we are doing two tasks at the same time.
In reality, the brain is switching attention between
tasks – performing only one task at a time.

In addition to “attention switching,” the brain
engages in a constant process to deal with the
information it receives:

1. Select the information the brain will attend to
2. Process the information
3. Encode, a stage that creates memory
4. Store the information.

Depending on the type of information, different
neural pathways and different areas of the brain are
engaged. Therefore, the brain must communicate
across its pathways.

Furthermore, the brain must go through two more
cognitive functions before it can act on saved
information. It must:

5. Retrieve stored information
6. Execute or act on the information.

When the brain is overloaded, all of these steps are
affected. But people may not realize this challenge
within their brains.

The brain not only juggles tasks, it also juggles
focus and attention. When people attempt to
perform two cognitively complex tasks such as
driving and talking on a phone, the brain shifts its
focus (people develop “inattention blindness”) (page
9). Important information falls out of view and is not
processed by the brain. For example, drivers may
not see a red light. Because this is a process people
are not aware of, it’s virtually impossible for people
to realize they are mentally taking on too much.

When we look at a view before us – whether we are
in an office, restaurant or hospital, at the beach, or
driving in a vehicle – we believe we are aware of
everything in our surroundings. However, this is not
the case. Very little information actually receives full
analysis by our brains. Research shows we are blind
to many changes that happen in scenery around
us, unless we pay close and conscious attention
to specific details, giving them full analysis to get
transferred into our working memory.

Brain researchers have identified “reaction-time
switching costs,” which is a measurable time
when the brain is switching its attention and focus
from one task to another. Research studying the
impact of talking on cell phones while driving has
identified slowed reaction time to potential hazards
are tangible, measurable and risky (page 10). Longer
reaction time is an outcome of the brain switching
focus. This impacts driving performance.

The cost of switching could be a few tenths of
a second per switch. When the brain switches
repeatedly between tasks, these costs add up.

Even small amounts of time spent switching can lead
to significant risks from delayed reaction and braking
time. For example, if a vehicle is traveling 40 mph, it
goes 120 feet before stopping. This equals eight car
lengths (an average car length is 15 feet). A fractionof-
a-second delay would make the car travel several
additional car lengths. When a driver needs to react
immediately, there is no margin for error.

Brains may face a “bottleneck” in which different
regions of the brain must pull from a shared and
limited resource for seemingly unrelated tasks,
constraining the mental resources available for the
tasks. Research has identified that even when
different cognitive tasks draw on two different
regions of the brain, we still can have performance
problems when trying to do dual tasks at the same
time. This may help explain why talking on cell
phones could affect what a driver sees: two usually
unrelated activities become interrelated when a
person is behind the wheel. These tasks compete for
our brain’s information processing resources. There
are limits to our mental workload.

The workload of information processing can
bring risks when unexpected driving hazards
arise. Under most driving conditions, drivers are
performing well-practiced, automatic driving tasks.
For example, without thinking about it much, drivers
slow down when they see yellow or red lights, and
activate turn signals when intending to make a
turn or lane change. These are automatic tasks for
experienced drivers. Staying within a lane, noting
the speed limit and navigation signs, and checking
rear- and side-view mirrors also are automatic
tasks for most experienced drivers. People can do
these driving tasks safely with an average cognitive
workload. During the vast majority of road trips,
nothing bad happens, as it should be. But that also
can lead people to feel a false sense of security or
competency when driving. Drivers may believe they
can safely multitask; however, a driver always must
be prepared to respond to the unexpected.

Multitasking impairs performance

A driver’s response to sudden hazards, such as
another driver’s behavior, weather conditions, work
zones, animals or objects in the roadway, often
is the critical factor between a crash and a nearcrash.
When the brain is experiencing an increased
workload, information processing slows and a driver
is much less likely to respond to unexpected hazards
in time to avoid a crash.

The industrial ergonomics field has been able to
identify physical workload limits and, in the same
way, the workload limits of our brains now are being
identified. The challenge to the general public is the
bottlenecks and limits of the brain are more difficult
to feel and literally see than physical limits.

Multitasking Impairs Performance

We can safely walk while chewing gum in a city
crowded with motor vehicles and other hazards.
That is because one of those tasks – chewing gum –
is not a cognitively demanding task.
When chewing gum and talking, people still
are able to visually scan the environment for
potential hazards:
– Light poles along the sidewalk
– Boxes suddenly pushed out a doorway at
ground level before the delivery man emerges
– Moving vehicles hidden by parked vehicles
– Small dog on a leash
– Uneven sidewalk

People do not perform as well when trying to
perform two attention-demanding tasks at the
same time. Research shows even pedestrians
don’t effectively monitor their environment for
safety while talking on cell phones. The challenge
is managing two tasks demanding our cognitive

Certainly most would agree that driving a vehicle
involves a more complex set of tasks than walking.

The brain is behind all tasks needed for driving:
visual, auditory, manual and cognitive. Recent
developments in functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) now allow researchers to see the
brain’s reactions to specific challenges and tasks.

A Carnegie Mellon University study produced fMRI
pictures of the brain while study participants drove
on a simulator and listened to spoken sentences
they were asked to judge as true or false.36 The
pictures below show that listening to sentences on
cell phones decreased activity by 37 percent in the
brain’s parietal lobe, an area associated
with driving. In other words, listening and language
comprehension drew cognitive resources away
from driving. This area of the brain is important
for navigation and the type of spatial processing
associated with driving. Because this study
involved listening and thinking of an answer
and not actual cell phone conversation,
the researchers concluded the results may
underestimate the distractive impact of
cell phone conversation.

The same study also found decreased activity in the
area of the brain that processes visual information,
the occipital lobe. While listening to
sentences on cell phones, drivers had more
problems, such as weaving out of their lane and
hitting guardrails. This task did not require holding
or dialing the phone, and yet driving performance
deteriorated. The scientists concluded this study
demonstrates there is only so much the brain
can do at one time, no matter how different the
two tasks are, even if the tasks draw on different
areas and neural networks of the brain. The brain
has a capacity limit. These fMRI images provide a
biological basis of the risks faced by drivers.

Driving risks of hands-free and handheld cell phones

We now understand how our brains have difficulty
juggling multiple cognitive tasks that demand our
attention. Next we will discuss specific risks that cell
phone conversations bring to driving, with an overview
of crash risks and driver errors most often associated
with both hands-free and handheld cell phones.

Inattention Blindness – Vision is the most important
sense we use for safe driving. It’s the source of the
majority of information when driving. Yet, drivers
using hands-free and handheld cell phones have
a tendency to “look at” but not “see” objects.
Estimates indicate drivers using cell phones look at
but fail to see up to 50 percent of the information
in their driving environment. Cognitive distraction
contributes to a withdrawal of attention from the
visual scene, where all the information the driver
sees is not processed. This may be due to the
earlier discussion of how our brains compensate for
receiving too much information by not sending some
visual information to the working memory. When
this happens, drivers are not aware of the filtered
information and cannot act on it.

Distracted drivers experience inattention blindness.
They are looking out the windshield, but do not
process everything in the roadway environment
necessary to effectively monitor their surroundings,
seek and identify potential hazards, and to respond
to unexpected situations. Their field of view
narrows. To demonstrate this, Figure 4 is a typical
representation of where a driver would look while not
using a phone. Figure 5 shows where drivers looked
while talking on hands-free cell phones.

Drivers talking on hands-free cell phones are more
likely to not see both high and low relevant objects,
showing a lack of ability to allocate attention to the
most important information. They miss visual cues
critical to safety and navigation. They tend to miss
exits, go through red lights and stop signs, and
miss important navigational signage. Drivers on
cell phones are less likely to remember the content
of objects they looked at, such as billboards.
Drivers not using cell phones were more likely
to remember content.

The danger of inattention blindness is that when
a driver fails to notice events in the driving
environment, either at all or too late, it’s impossible
to execute a safe response such as a steering
maneuver or braking to avoid a crash.

To explore how cell phone use can affect driver visual
scanning, Transport Canada’s Ergonomics Division
tracked the eye movements of drivers using handsfree
phones, and again when these drivers were not
on the phone. In addition to looking
less at the periphery, drivers using hands-free phones
reduced their visual monitoring of instruments and
mirrors, and some drivers entirely abandoned those
tasks. At intersections, these drivers made fewer
glances to traffic lights and to traffic on the right.
Some drivers did not even look at traffic signals.

Slower Response Time and Reaction Time –
Response time includes both reaction time and
movement time. Reaction time involves attentional
resources and information processing, while
movement time is a function of muscle activation.
Cell phone use has been documented to affect
reaction time.

Due to the “attention switching” costs discussed
earlier, it makes sense that driver reactions may be
slower when using cell phones. For every information
input, the brain must make many decisions: whether
to act on information processed, how to act,
execute the action and stop the action. While this
process may take only a fraction of a second, all of
these steps do take time. When driving, fractions
of seconds can be the time between a crash or no
crash, injury or no injury, life or death.

Numerous studies show delayed response and
reaction times when drivers are talking on hands-free
and handheld cell phones. Reaction
time has shown impairment in a variety of scenarios:

– A University of Utah driving simulator study
found drivers using cell phones had
slower reaction times than drivers impaired by
alcohol at a .08 blood alcohol concentration,
the legal intoxication limit. Braking time also
was delayed for drivers talking on hands-free
and handheld phones.

– Drivers talking on hands-free phones in
simulated work zones took longer to reduce
their speed when following a slowing vehicle
before them and were more likely to brake hard
than drivers not on the phone. Many braking
scenarios included clues that traffic was
going to stop. Side-swipe crashes also were
more common. Work zones are challenging
environments for all drivers, and rear-end
collisions are a leading type of work zone
crash, putting workers and vehicle occupants
at risk. Driver distraction is a significant
contributing factor to work zone crashes.

– Hands-free phone use led to an increase in
reaction time to braking vehicles in front of
drivers, and reaction time increased more and
crashes were more likely as the traffic density

– Testing of rear-end collision warning systems
showed significantly longer reaction time during
complex hands-free phone conversations.

Drivers in reaction time studies tended to show
compensation behaviors by increasing following
distance. However, drivers in three studies who
attempted to compensate for their reduced attention
this way found increased headway often was not
adequate to avoid crashing.

Problems Staying in Lane – “Lane keeping” or
“tracking” is the driver’s ability to maintain the
vehicle within a lane. While most cell phone driver
performance problems involve significant reaction
time impairment, there are minor, less significant
costs with lane keeping. It is suggested that lane
keeping may depend on different visual resources
than responding to hazards by reacting. In addition,
avoiding hazards requires drivers to watch for
unexpected events, choose an appropriate response
and act. This requires information processing and
decision-making that is more cognitively demanding
than lane keeping tasks, which is more automatic.

Still, when we are driving at roadway and freeway
speeds with vehicles spaced less than a few feet
from each other in parallel lanes, the margin of error
for decision-making and response time to avoid a
crash is very small. Perhaps drivers who create a
hazard by straying from their lanes must depend on
other drivers around them to drive defensively and
respond appropriately, and it may be those reacting
drivers whose cell phone use should be of concern.

Recent naturalistic studies, have reported a
risk of crashing while talking on a cell phone to
be significantly less than the fourfold risk found
in the above epidemiological studies. This new
methodology, although offering great promise
in the endeavor to understand what really goes
on in a vehicle prior to a crash, has significant
limitations, including:

– Very small number of observed crashes.
– The use of “near-crash” data to calculate
crash risk.
– Inability to collect all near-crash occurrences.
– Inability to observe or measure cognitive
– Inability to observe hands-free phone use.

All methodologies have strengths and significant
limitations. There is no “gold standard” of research
methodology. Each research method provides
valuable knowledge. In this case, experimental
studies have been used to measure the risks of
cognitive distraction, because other methods,
particularly naturalistic research methods, cannot
effectively measure it. In making decisions about
laws, vehicle and roadway improvements, and driver
behavior, the entire body of research should always
be considered. When doing so, it is clear that the risk
of crashing when engaged in a hands-free phone
conversation is about 4 times greater than when not
using a phone while driving.

Are drivers able to reduce their own risk?

There is evidence that people are aware of
distracted driving risks to drivers, in general. In a
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey, 83 percent
of respondents said drivers using cell phones is a
“serious” or “extremely serious” problem. It was
rated a serious or extremely serious problem more
often than aggressive drivers, excessive speeding
and running red lights. Only alcohol-impaired driving
was rated as a serious problem by more people.
But do these people recognize their own risks of
using cell phones while driving? Despite their stated
belief in the dangers, more than half of the same
survey respondents reported talking on cell phones
while driving during the previous 30 days. Seventeen
percent admitted this behavior “often” or “very often.”

Furthermore, due to how our brains filter information,
as discussed earlier, we are never aware of the
information that was filtered out. This may add
to the lack of awareness of our limitations. Some
researchers have studied whether distracted
drivers are aware of their decrease in safe driving
performance. Findings show distracted drivers may
not be aware of the effects of cognitive distraction
and using cell phones while they are driving.
Also, drivers perceived they were safer drivers when
using hands-free phones, but actually showed
decreased performance while using hands-free
phones. One study found drivers who thought
the task was easy tended to perform the worst.

It is well-known from many traffic safety issues
with a long history of injury prevention strategies
– impaired driving, teen driving, speeding, safety
belts and child safety seats – that even when people
are aware of the risks, they may not easily change
behaviors to reduce the risk.

What are possible prevention steps?

Eliminating driver distraction due to cell phone use
faces significant challenges, even beyond combating
drivers’ desire to be connected and productive.
Drivers can help avoid this by informing frequent
callers that they will not participate in phone
conversations while driving. When facing multiple
demands for their cognitive attention, drivers
may not be aware they are missing critical visual
information, and they may not be aware of the full
impact of that oversight. This lack of awareness
of the distraction could prolong it. Widespread
education is needed about the risks of hands-free
devices, conversation and cognitive distraction.

There is a shared responsibility among all involved in
cell phone conversations to avoid calling and talking
while driving – including drivers, callers and the
people that drivers may call. Vehicle manufacturers
are including more wireless and voice recognition
communications technologies in vehicles, but their
impact on distraction has yet to be fully studied.
Consumers should consider their exposure to
cognitive distraction and increased crash risk while
using these in-vehicle technologies.

But even when people are aware of the risks, they
tend to believe they are more skilled than other
drivers, and many still engage in driving behaviors
they know are potentially dangerous. Prevention
strategies should consider how people behave in
reality, not only how they should behave. We know
from other traffic safety issues – impaired driving,
safety belts, speeding – that consistent enforcement
of laws is the single most important effective
strategy in changing behavior. Therefore, prevention
strategies that may show the most promise are
legislative and corporate policies, coupled with
high-visibility enforcement and strict consequences.
Technology solutions can go even further by
preventing calls and messages from being sent or
received by drivers in moving vehicles. To provide
safety benefits and provide a positive influence on
reducing crashes, injuries and deaths, these efforts
– including education, policies, laws and technology
– must address the prevention of both handheld and
hands-free cell phone use by drivers.

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