If you drive, it’s likely that you’ve talked, texted, or typed on your smart phone while behind the wheel, and it’s even more likely that you’ve seen others drive distracted. But despite the overwhelming prevalence of technology, a new report by GMAC Insurance suggests that people are starting to get the message about the dangers of distracted driving. In fact, nearly 75 percent of teenagers, the demographic most likely to text and drive, have said they have stopped using their cell phones in the car altogether. The report credits awareness programs, state laws prohibiting distracted driving, and technology that have made cell phones safer.
Despite the reduction in distracted driving rates, though, about 50 percent of total drivers admit to using their cell phones behind the wheel. And as distracted driving causes nearly 6,000 car accident deaths and 500,000 injuries each year, it’s clear that state and national officials will need to get much tougher on distracted drivers in order to make a serious dent in the dangerous practice.
A new report by the Governors Highway Safety Administration notes that distracted driving is a leading cause in 25 percent of total car accidents nationwide, but questions whether state cell phone bans have contributed to a reduction in these accidents. That’s likely because many state laws against distracted driving list it as a secondary offense, meaning the driver must be pulled over for another infraction in order to get a citation for texting while driving. Many states have also implemented laws that only target the use of hand held phones. That means that drivers can continue to carry on conversations with their cell phones, which the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has deemed nearly as dangerous as texting and driving.
To address this problem, safety advocates have said that police must get stricter on with multi-tasking drivers, and state laws should make it more difficult, not easier, to drive distracted. One example of an appropriate technology solution is a smart phone application that blocks incoming calls and text messages while the car is in motion, and sends an auto-reply that the driver will respond when he or she reaches the destination safely. Instead, many car companies and cell phone providers have jumped out ahead of the issue with dangerous distracted driving technologies that actually make it easier to talk or text while zooming down the highway.
OnStar has developed a clear example of technology that should be avoided: a voice-activated system that would update the driver’s Facebook status while in transit. And Ford has been an advocate for distracted driving laws as long as they include a loophole that allows hand-free tech devices – like their Ford Focus My Ford Touch system, which New York Times Personal Technology Editor Sam Grobart deemed even more distracting. Though they appear safe, tech-based distracted driving solutions should so far be avoided. “Studies show hands-free devices provide no safety benefit,” writes the anti-distracted driving group Focus Driven on its webpage. “It’s the conversation, not the device, that creates the danger.”
So while it’s incredibly tempting to text a friend, check email, or even talk on the phone while driving on city streets or highways, remember that you’re likely unaware of how distracting these innocent actions can be. No one thinks that they will become an accident statistic, but everyone can take steps to assure that their actions don’t lead to dangerous driving decisions. So instead of relying on technology to keep you safe in your car, putting down the phone is the best way to stay safe.
Visit Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s Faces of Distracted Driving webpage for some true, tragic stories about the impact of distracted driving on real families across the country.
Photo credit: Lord Jim