Can Technologies Curb Driver Distraction?

Fourteen states have passed laws to make it illegal to have a phone in your hand while you’re driving; and texting while driving is illegal in 46. Still, the National Safety Council attributes more than a million crashes each year to drivers on cell phones, while the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports distracted driving plays a role in crashes that kill nine and injure another 1,000 people every single day. In the past few years, a variety of tech innovations have been developed to help curb the effects of distracted driving. And according to a recent survey, drivers appear to like the idea, as over half of those in a National Safety Council survey said they would welcome and use them. Forward-Collision Warning (FCW), Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), and Lane-Departure Warning (LDW) features on newer cars certainly snap many behind the wheel back to their driving task at-hand before their vehicle becomes an unguided missile. And continued development of driverless cars continues, although we’re at least a decade away from vast numbers of them being on the road. Knowing that “road tests” for driverless cars are conducted every day in real traffic – as opposed to just closed road courses – makes many drivers and pedestrians a bit queasy. But researchers agree that smartphones are the (almost) number one cause of distracted driving accidents. And wherever there’s a need, commerce responds. This explains a growing class of apps on the market that block or severely restrict smartphone communications when we’re behind the wheel. Some have auto responders which inform the message sender (or caller) that the person is driving and will get back with them shortly. A few of them can even be monitored by dedicated third parties (teenagers’ parents) to make certain the behind-the-wheel kiddos are paying attention to something other than their smartphone. Here’s a list of current products on the market that appear to be working – to varying degrees.  Note: all apps are Android and iOS compatible unless otherwise noted.

Are Cars Themselves a Distraction, Too?

Smartphones may be the primary cause of distracted driving, but they’re not the only ones. Automakers are coming up with innovations to enhance safe driving while at the same time creating more distractions. According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, information and entertainment systems in many new cars are distracting drivers for as long as 40 seconds at a time. The study was conducted for AAA by University of Utah researchers, analyzing voice-based and touch-screen “infotainment” systems in 30 new 2017 vehicles. They rated distractibility on several levels, ranging from “low demand” to “very high demand” while driving. The systems in a dozen of the studied vehicles rated “very high demand” levels of distraction; 18 generated “high” or “moderate” levels. None had systems that rated “low demand.” AAA estimates that at least one-third of drivers use infotainment systems while behind the wheel. Another recent survey showed that while almost 70 percent of U.S. adults say they want such infotainment technology in their car, less than 25 percent are pleased with their simplicity of operation. Such frustration, according to that survey, also increases cognitive demand on the driver and leads to distraction. So the upshot to all of this is – again – it’s up to all drivers to primarily focus on the road and their surroundings as they travel.  And the need for that discipline will remain for the foreseeable future. Technology helps, but it’s still our decisions that are the greatest challenge, and solution to, distracted driving. If you or a member of your family has been the victim of a distracted driver and would like to speak to someone at our firm, please call us at 606-437-4488 or fill out our online contact form.

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