It’s Monday morning and you are running late for work. You hop in your car. As long as there are no traffic back-ups or accidents, you might just make it in time. There was no time for a sit down for breakfast; you begin eating a granola bar you grabbed on your way out the door. You realize you forgot to tell your spouse you would be home late for dinner; you make the call. Traffic is getting heavy so you turn on the radio to check the traffic report. You decide to call your boss in case you are late for the morning meeting. Miraculously, you arrive to work on time. While you may think you were totally in control behind the wheel, the fact is that you were a distracted driver who fortunately arrived safely. Consider yourself lucky; it may not be the case next time!
Distracted driving is nothing new; we have been hearing about it almost daily for years. From talking with passengers, to eating, to putting on make-up, to turning around to check on children in the backseat, to talking on the phone, texting, and more, distracted driving endangers you, your passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. At any given time during daylight hours in the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA). According to separate NHTSA data, more than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
To help prevent driver distractions, automakers have increasingly introduced voice-activated systems that allow drivers to dictate a text, send an e-mail and even update a Facebook page, all while keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. While this might be a hands-free solution, it isn’t “mind-free.”
As vehicles become equipped with newer and more advanced technologies, the question of safety still comes to mind. Consider the heads-up displays (HUDs), a transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints. Although such a devise can warn drivers of a potential hazardous situation such as an accident up ahead or a change in road conditions, displaying an iPod playlist or directions can be a deadly distraction.
While technology seems to have triggered some of the problem (or at the very least, made it worse), now it’s being offered by many companies as a solution. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is testing automatic braking technology, sensors in the front of a car that could stop crashes before they happen. Some luxury car manufacturers have begun adding collision detection technology to some models.
To date, there is limited data to answer the question: Are these technologies making an improvement in reducing auto accidents? Although it appears such devices are certainly helpful, even computer systems and other technological advancements are not free from malfunctions and failures. So, how wise would it be to rely completely on these systems to keep us safe? When are we going to stop ignoring the underlying problem – driver behavior. There is nothing safer than an alert and focused driver.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.