Can technology cure texting while driving?
Everyone knows texting while driving is bad. But can it be stopped?
GCN Lab Director John Breeden II recently recounted a multi-vehicle pileup he witnessed — and barely avoided — on the Washington Beltway in which at least one driver in the crash had a cell phone in hand. It got him thinking that products such as ZoomSafer, which locks down your phone when you’re in your car, might not be such a bad idea.
Readers nodded their heads in agreement.
“I was hit in a parking lot by a guy who was in a texting fight with his girlfriend,” wrote Alfie. “I was walking and it was fairly low speed, but I was about to get into my car. I just kind of bounced off his truck and didn't get hurt, but it would have smashed up my Honda. I agree, texting while driving should be illegal and if the phones can help us, they should. Ten miles per hour more and I might have been killed by texting and driving. Or I would have gotten up and killed the idiot in the truck.”
“I'm with you. My daughter was rear-ended while stopped at a stop sign by a kid texting,” wrote Richard in Huntsville. “Her car is totaled, his SUV is still drivable. Her car cannot be replaced for what the insurance will pay on it so she is out a fair amount of money. The only saving grace is her three little girls were not with her at the time. In Huntsville, we just passed a local ordinance banning texting in vehicles.”
But how much do laws help? Nationwide cites a survey saying that 80 percent of Americans support a ban on texting while driving. But somehow, it doesn’t seem people are willing to voluntarily ban it themselves. And a recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute concluded that texting bans might actually increase accident rates.
“In our state, the ban actually resulted in more accidents, as more online drivers went from talking with the phone in their hand to texting with the phone down in their lap,” wrote CJ. “Last accident I was in ... rear-ended on the Indian Head highway several years ago by someone dialing AND tailgating.”
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Friday feature: Is text-driving worse than drunk driving?
The consequences of texting while driving are serious business, as evidenced by any number of graphic videos warning about what can happen.
Comedian Marc Maron offers his own take in a YouTube video posted at the Daily Beast.
Maron says he thinks texting while driving could be even worse than drunk driving. “When you’re drunk driving, at least someone is driving the car,” he said. “When you’re texting and driving, no one is driving the car.”
A reader in Oregon, however, has seen the benefits of a ban: “Since the ban on handheld cell phone use that started here beginning of the year, I've really noticed a big reduction in bad driving on my way in to work. ... Now if they could find a way to get to rid of the relentless tailgaters ...”
But if bans alone don’t solve the problem, technology such as ZoomSafer and CellControl — which primarily are designed for managing fleets, but could also be used by individuals — could be helpful, several readers suggested.
“I hate to be forced into anything even when it's good for me, but just like saving for retirement, avoiding cell phones while driving is a must,” wrote Bill in Los Alamos. “As my grandchildren start driving one by one, I'm even more convinced that this is worthwhile technology.”
“I also think cell phone manufacturers should provide the software to disable the phones when people are in a moving vehicle, whether they are driving or riding,” wrote another reader.
Other incentives could also help, wrote I Like Being Safe: “I can envision insurance companies offering discounts to drivers to use the software, especially teens. Some may state that safe is boring, but I tend to be of the opinion that I can decide for myself what risks I am willing to take, and not on folks with questionable judgment decide for themselves without regard to how their actions impact those around them. (literally and figuratively).”
Several readers asked about whether ZoomSafer would also lock down the phones of passengers, and whether they could make emergency calls if necessary.
Eleanor Jones of ZoomSafer wrote to point out that the technology links with a specific phone. “ZoomSafer uses your phone's pairing with in-vehicle Bluetooth technology — like Ford SYNC, or a speakerphone or charger — to automatically activate when you begin driving. So when you get into someone else's vehicle as a passenger, ZoomSafer won't activate on your phone. We did also include an optional setting that allows you to suspend ZoomSafer for a brief period, so yes, a passenger could read you your messages.” Suspending the service also could allow for emergency calls.
But regardless of laws and technology, distracter drivers will likely always be with us.
“Texting is hardly the most distracting thing people do in a car or truck cab,” wrote Commuter Chris in Washington, D.C. “Rules banning only cell phone use will hardly do away with distracted driving. So, do we say banning something is better then banning nothing, or do we assume people can not be trusted to drive their own cars and ride the slippery slope to being required to buy a car that drives itself — Google has them in test mode now ...”
“The lunacy behind most of this texting/talking on the cell phone is that it's all about ‘stuff’ that can wait,” wrote AvgJoe in Southern California. “The level of importance for most of this ‘stuff’ is pretty close to zero. Of course, with the profit the phone companies make from texting, why would they want people to text less? Maybe it's time to start placing some of the blame with the phone companies and hitting them where it hurts — their bottom line!”
Fortunately, not all drivers have their eye on a screen instead of the road.
“No one is keeping tabs or stats on how many accidents are avoided by the alertness of other drivers not on their cell phones,” wrote Don. “It's become a crazy world out there on the roads and there's people now that dial a call as they leave their house and stay totally on their phone until they arrive. It's become a habit with so many to just talk to pass the time on the drives to and fro.”
Laws and technology can help, but non-texting, non-dialing, non-chit-chatting drivers would do well to remember a highway safety slogan from a few decades back: Watch out for the other guy.
Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.