Is New Car Technology Leading to More Distracted Driving?
Cars have come a long way in the last 120 years or so. New car technology lets you do everything from stream music to watch movies. Some cars can even drive themselves under certain circumstances.
These bells and whistles aren't a terrible thing, but having too many toys in your car can be dangerous. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, just taking your eyes off the road for two seconds can more than double your risk for a car accident.
Do we need to tone down the bells and whistles because this modern technology is leading to more distracted driving, or is it possible to find a balance?
Smart Device Integration
Cell phone use in cars is one of the biggest causes of distracted driving, despite its convenience. One feature many car manufacturers have started implementing to counter this distraction is the ability to integrate smartphone functionality into the car itself. Many new cars now come with voice-activated phone integration, and sometimes even voice-activated navigation and music controls.
While this does keep cell phones out of driver's hands, it still contributes to driver distractions. Even if you’re not taking your eyes off the road because your car can answer phone calls, respond to text messages and play any song on your playlist, it still creates a distraction which can slow down your reaction times, leading to car accidents.
This isn’t to discourage people from using integrated smart devices in their car – many cars come with them pre-installed now as part of the stock package, so they’re getting harder to avoid. The important thing to remember is that while these integrated devices might be safer than checking a text on your phone, they are still a distraction and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
Types of Driver Distraction
Unfortunately, you can still be distracted even if you have your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. There are three main types of driver distraction, which include:
1. Manual: You've taken your hands off the wheel for some reason, whether it's to check your cell phone, adjust the AC or turn up the radio.
2. Visual: You've taken your eyes off the road.
3. Cognitive: You've taken your mind off the road.
If you pick up your cell phone to check a text message, you're experiencing all three types of driver distraction. Even hands-free technology isn't fully distraction-free. Telling your car to call someone and then having a conversation is a type of cognitive distraction, even if your hands are on the wheel and your eyes are on the road.
Texting and driving is directly responsible for one out of every four car accidents. According to experts, you’re six times more likely to be involved in a car accident while texting and driving than you are while driving under the influence. Remember how we mentioned that taking your eyes away from the road for just two seconds doubles your risk of a car accident? Answering a text takes roughly five seconds.
Teenagers are more likely to be involved in fatal texting while driving accidents than adults are – of the teens who were involved in fatal accidents, 21 percent of them were distracted by their cell phones.
Self-Driving Isn’t the Answer
Self-driving cars are growing in popularity, but until they progress to the point where they can become fully autonomous, they may not be the answer to our collective distracted driving problem. Right now, autopilot programs like the one offered with select Tesla vehicles might be safe on the highway, but they’re not safe to use in all situations – just look at the fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona where a pedestrian was killed by one of Uber’s self-driving cars while it was being tested.
Until we reach full level four or five autonomy, where cars can safely drive themselves without the need for human intervention regardless of the situation, and they become more mainstream, removing the human error element from driving altogether, they won’t be the answer to our distracted driving problem. They’re a great tool, to be sure, but they still need some development before it will ever be safe to use your cell phone while you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.
Distracted Driving Solutions
With all of these technological advances, surely there is something we can do to stop distracted driving, right?
There are several devices that you can plug into your car to let your wireless provider know you’re driving. It blocks all incoming messages and notifications, as well as prevents you from sending outgoing texts or updates. Anyone who tries to send you a message will also get a notification that you're driving, thus removing the distraction.
For parents who are worried about their teens texting while they’re behind the wheel, there are a number of apps and phone features that you can use to keep your teen from texting. Some apps connect to the device’s GPS and automatically shut off texting features once the car reaches a pre-set speed. Others simply block all incoming messages and phone calls until the setting is turned off either manually or remotely by you.
The best move is to shut off your cell phone, put it in airplane mode or leave it in the backseat where you can't reach it while you're driving. No matter how important that call or text message is, it’s not worth your life. Wait until you’ve reached your destination before you pick the phone up again.
More technology might not be the perfect solution to the many distracting gadgets in your car right now, but anything that can keep the roads a little safer and make drivers a little less distracted is worth investigating.
While these phone-blocking devices won't do anything about people distracted by accidents on the side of the road, adjusting the climate control or changing the radio station, it can help to remove some of the other distractions — especially the technology-based ones — that are putting drivers and passengers at risk.