Driving While Distracted

By Kim Smiley

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that 3,092 people died last year in car accidents that involved distracted driving.  This means that texting and talking on cell phones contributed to one out of every 11 traffic deaths in the US last year.

It’s difficult to compare this number to the findings from previous years because the definition for distracted driving was refined.  The number for 2011 included only the effects of texting and using a cell phone while driving while other non-technological distractions were included previously.

One thing that is clear, the popularity of texting is rapidly increasing.   196 billion text messages were sent in June 2011,  a nearly 50% increase from June 2009.

A Cause Map can be built to investigate this issue.  A Cause Map is a visual, intuitive form of root cause analysis.  To view a high level Cause Map of this example, click on “Download PDF” above.

One of the causes that contributed to this problem is that people aren’t pulling over when they need to use their cell phones while driving.  There are a number of reasons for this.  The first being, that pulling over is rarely convenient.  Second, people don’t see the need to pull over.  And third, whatever laws might be in place prohibiting distracted driving aren’t effective.

It isn’t clear why people don’t believe they need to pull over.  The study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that many people don’t think that cell phone usage and texting negatively affect their driving skills.  Many studies have determined that just isn’t the case.  Using a cell phone, either to talk or to text while driving will slow down a driver’s reaction time.   A study by the US Department of Transportation found that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds.  At 55 mph, a car will travel the length of a football field in that time.

Following these findings, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  has recommended a nation wide ban on the use of all portable electronic devices, including cell phones.  This would include using a hands-free device to operate a cell phone. The only exceptions to the ban would be use of GPS systems and cell phone use in case of emergency.  Only time will tell what effect the NTSB recommendation has future laws.

Roofing Asphalt Spilled on PA Turnpike

By Kim Smiley

On November 22, 2011, a tanker truck spilled a large quantity of roofing asphalt along nearly 40 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The spill damaged many vehicles and caused a traffic nightmare as crews worked for hours to clean the mess up.  The timing of this incident was also unfortunate because it occurred on the evening before Thanksgiving, traditionally a very high traffic time.

This incident can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, which is an intuitive, visual method for performing a root cause analysis.  The first step when building a Cause Map is to determine how the incident impacted the goals of the organization.  In this example, the safety goal was impacted because there was potential for car accidents and injuries.  Thankfully, no one was actually hurt, but it is important to note the potential impact in order to fully understand the ramifications from an event.  Additionally, the traffic delays are an impact to the schedule goal.  The customer service goal was also impacted because over 150 cars were damaged by the spill.

Now the Cause Map is expanded by asking “why” questions and adding Causes that contributed to the incident in order to show the cause and effect relationships.  In this example, there was a potential for injuries because more than 150 cars were damaged while driving.  The cars were damaged because they drove onto a spill of wet roofing asphalt.  The asphalt covered the cars and their wheels with thick, sticky goo and many of them undrivable.  The cars drove over the roofing asphalt because a tanker truck had leaked onto the road over a long distance.

The tanker truck was carrying a large load of the roofing asphalt, between 4,000 and 5,000 gallons, so there was a large quantity that could potentially be spilled.  Initial findings indicate that the tanker truck spilled the asphalt because of a leaking valve.  Details on why the valve leaked aren’t yet available, but they can be added to the Cause Map as they are known.

Another Cause of this incident is the fact that the driver of the truck was unaware that his truck was leaking so he drove almost 40 miles before he stopped and realized that there was a problem.    It was evening when the leak occurred so the driver wasn’t able to see evidence of a leak easily.

Media reports have stated that the driver of the tanker truck will be charged in the incident.  He is facing charges of failing to secure his load and failing to obey a trooper.  The website of the trucking company has posted a statement encouraging affected vehicle owners to file claims though their insurance.

Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map of this incident.