Some people become advocates against distracted driving after tragedy strikes, my motivation was different. While I have not lost someone close to me as a result of distracted driving, I was in a car accident many years ago, and that moment gave me pause to think about what people are doing when they are driving. Since that time, I have felt more comfortable as a passenger.
Being a forever-passenger has forced me to spend a lot of time watching other drivers in action. And, let me tell you, it’s frightening. Every day, nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving distracted driving. During the past decade of covering this topic, a lot has changed, but some things have still remained the same.
For instance, I used to be a lonely voice trying to get the tech industry, and all the individuals within it, to talk about distracted driving. Fortunately, now I’m just one of a whole chorus of voices speaking out and spreading the word. There are laws, bans, educational and awareness campaigns, pledges … and there’s also the harrowing statistics.
Smartphones have been ubiquitous in our country for long enough now that we have data that proves how deadly distracted driving can be.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Admin.) reports that 3,450 people were killed as a result of distracted driving in 2016. During daylight hours, the NHTSA estimates 481,000 drivers are using their phones while they are driving.
This statistic is also very disturbing and should frighten anyone reading this blog. What this says is that many drivers believe they can do many things while driving. They believe they can multitask. This false sense of confidence can lead to an enormous potential for collisions, injuries, and fatalities on U.S. roads.
It begs the questions: Can drivers really change? Do they want to change? And do we need to speed up the tech development of such things as 5G and autonomous vehicles?
To date, several laws have been passed in an effort to curb distracted driving. Data from the Dept. of Health Policy and Management at Texas A&M University published in the American Journal of Public Health from Alva Ferdinand and fellow researchers the impact of state texting bans on motor vehicle crashes–related emergency department visits.
The team considered data from 16 states between 2007 and 2014. On average, states with a texting ban saw a 4% reduction in motor vehicle collision-related visits to the emergency room. That 4% equates to an average of 1,632 prevented emergency-room visits per year in states with a ban.
So, based on this research, we can assume that states’ efforts to curb distracted driving by enacting texting bans is creating positive change.
One of the latest bills making its way through the system is a piece of legislation that would ban drivers in South Carolina from holding phones and other electronic devices in their hands while driving.
The “South Carolina hands-free act” would fine distracted drivers for calling, texting, emailing, or doing any other activity on a handheld device while driving.
Hands-free devices could be used, and GPS on a phone could be used to navigate as long as the driver enters the destination into the phone before starting to drive.
These laws appear to be very effective and many more states, including South Carolina, are looking to toughen their laws against distracted driving. However, there still seems to be a bit of a disconnect, though.
First, legislators need to reach young people. The NHTSA says teens were the largest age group reportedly distracted at the time of fatal crashes in 2016. Teens aren’t always the best at thinking about consequences or fully understanding them. They tend to live more in the moment, and I’m speaking generally, of course.
Laws seem to be helping, but we really need to continue to push hard on distracted-driving awareness and education, especially for tech natives who are so used to being attached to their smartphones.
In addition to laws, organizations are developing initiatives to improve safe driving and to advance autonomous driving. For example, the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division has joined the Coalition for Future Mobility. The objective here is to encourage bipartisian congressional leadership in an effort to advance the testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology.
With that said, here’s the second problem. It’s all too easy to point a finger at someone else. We need to reach young people with this message, but that in no way means that any other demographic is not also to blame. We’re all to blame.
No text is worth the risk. It only takes a glance to look away from the road when driving and disaster can happen. Again too many drivers believe it’s not them—and that they can multitask. That is why autonomous vehicles will play a key role in helping to end driver distraction. Much of the problem is people are to blame and the more we are connected it seems, the less people want to keep their hand on the wheel and their eyes on the road. It seems that ding is just too tempting. It’s 5G and AV (autonomous vehicles) to the rescue.