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Technology That Can Reduce Driving Distractions and Their Dangers

Happy couple driving a car isolated over a white background

Since more than 3,000 people are killed on U.S. roads each and every year in distracted driving crashes, more and more companies are developing technologies which, somewhat ironically, prevent current technologies from causing distracted driving accidents.

Distractions while driving include any activity which diverts your attention form the roadway and other drivers around you. As a nation of multi-taskers, Americans have taken multi-tasking to a whole new level in their vehicles. We eat and drink while we drive, rather than taking the time to eat at a restaurant, our home, or even to pull over and eat.

We talk to passengers in our vehicle, and, for those with children, it is not unusual to lean over to pick up a toy or a bottle, to turn around and referee an argument in the back seat, or to spend more time watching the children in the rearview mirror than watching the road. The many technologies our cars now come equipped with—GPS, CD player, radio, more controls than ever—have added another layer to our distractions, then of course, there is the biggest distraction—our cell phones.

Adults who are absolutely aware that texting while driving is dangerous will nonetheless engage in that behavior “just this once.” Even parents who have cautioned their teens against texting and driving, are often not very good role models regarding texting while driving. Talking on your cell phone is dangerous as well, as it diverts your attention from where it should be—on the road. Even hands-free phone technology has been found to be almost as distracting as holding your cell phone in your hand, or using your hands to dial the phone.

Sending or reading a text takes your eyes from the road for at least five seconds. If you are driving at a speed of 55 mph, five seconds away from the road is like driving the length of a football field—with your eyes closed. The bottom line is that no driver—no matter how safe you believe yourself to be—can drive safely unless your full attention is on driving. Any non-driving activity you engage in while driving significantly increases your risk of a collision.

During the daylight hours, some 660,000 drivers in the United States are using cell phones while they drive, creating the potential for deaths and serious injuries. Teenage drivers are not only the group with the most accidents, they are also the group most likely to be distracted at the time of a fatal crash. The NHTSA leads the fight against distracted driving through education regarding the dangers of driving distractions, partnering with state and local law enforcement to let drivers know just how dangerous it is to engage in distractions while driving.

Strategies to Help Drivers Stay Focused on Driving

Several companies have developed phone blocking apps and devices which can help drivers avoid the temptation of reading a text, sending a text, or answering a phone call. These apps and devices also prevent drivers from accessing the Internet while driving. Most often cell phone blocking technology is a smartphone app, available from the customer’s own wireless service provider, or other companies. The most basic of these apps simply prohibits calls or texts while the vehicle is in motion. The app senses the motion of the car, blocking ingoing and outgoing calls and texts. Many of these apps will send the person trying to call or text a message, saying something like “The person you are calling is driving, and will answer your call when he or she is not driving.”

Many people hesitate to download these apps, fearing they would not be able to call 911 in an emergency, however this is not the case. All 911 calls will go through, no matter what app or device you choose to use. Some of the apps are free, while others may have a nominal cost, however a life is certainly worth a few bucks a month, when these apps prevent what is arguably the most dangerous form of driving distraction. Some may choose to install a device known as a virtual barrier or geofence in their vehicle (or their teen’s vehicle) rather than using an app. This virtual barrier effectively creates a virtual geographic boundary which notifies parents when the teen drives outside that virtual barriers, as well as preventing teens from texting, talking on their phone or using any type of electronic device while driving.

Technology Used by Corporations for Employees Driving Company Vehicles

Many corporations whose employees drive company vehicles are also using technologies to prevent distracted driving—and keep their insurance rates more affordable. Employers are exposed to the consequences of an employee using an electronic device while driving in a company vehicle, or on company time. Making or receiving phone calls, texting, emailing and/or using any device application when vehicles are in motion greatly increases the likelihood of a distracted driving accident.

This, in turn, places a greater liability exposure on the employer. One technology known as Cellcontrol eliminates this liability by providing centralized management and reporting, while preventing employees from emailing, posting to social media, surfing the web, talking, texting and more while driving. Cellcontrol has an option known as DrivePERFORMANCE which also gathers information on how employees actually drive. Such things as braking and acceleration stats, reports on routes taken by employees, idle times and more can help employers reduce their vehicle operating costs.

Cellcontrol also has a “top tier” service, known as DrivePRO, which includes geofencing as well as real time speeding alerts and trip reporting. While many may see this technology as invasive, it has been shown to significantly reduce the number of distracted driving accidents, and, when employees know their employer has access to how they drive—they drive much more safely.

Company Policies for Cell Phone Use

Even those companies who choose not to have an app or device on their company cars, it is wise to, at a bare minimum, institute a cell phone policy for employees. The NTSB recommends that all companies prohibit the use of cell phones while their employees are behind the wheel. Company cell phone policies should always comply with state and local laws, so it is important for employers to research those laws before implementing a cell phone use policy.

While some companies do allow hands-free phone use, the safer alternative is to ban the use of cell phones while driving completely for employees. While it may seem rather obvious, once a company puts a cell phone usage policy into place, they must make sure the policy is publicized to all employees, whether through company e-mail or newsletter. Some companies have all their employees sign a document which notes the employee has read the policy and will comply.

Just as important, the cell phone policy must be consistently enforced—if termination stated as the consequence for using a cell phone while driving, then there cannot be “second chances,” or all employees will begin to feel the policy is just a suggestion rather than a hard and fast rule. Finally, just like parents who tell their teens not to text and drive—then engage in that behavior themselves—company executives and policy makers must also strictly adhere to the rules against using a cell phone while behind the wheel.

Who Uses These Technologies?

At present, parents of teen drivers and employers use these technologies to prevent distracted driving more than any other group, however the technology is seeing expansion. It is hoped that in the near future, more people will have the technology to reduce distracted driving than those who do not. Interestingly, a public opinion poll conducted by the National Safety Council found that 82 percent of American drivers said they felt the most pressure from their families to use their phone while driving. Teen drivers also said they felt pressure from their family and friends to use their phone while driving, with many stating that although their parents cautioned them about using their phone while driving, their parents were also the most likely to call the teen while he or she was driving.

Why We Continue to Use Our Phones While Driving

Even those who understand the increased risk of a collision when a cell phone is used to text or talk while driving continue to do so. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they felt they were at risk due to other drivers using their cell phones while driving, yet only 25 percent of those felt their own use of a cell phone while driving put other drivers at risk. This is primarily due to the fact that most drivers believe they are better drivers than those around them. Further, many drivers are not cognizant of the fact that hands free devices are almost as dangerous as handheld technologies. Eighty percent of the NSC poll respondents said they believed hands-free devices were safer than handheld, while 53 percent said they believed voice control features are absolutely safe because “they are provided with the vehicle.” In fact, more than one body of research has concluded drivers using handheld or hands-free phones only see about half of all the information in their driving environment. This is known as inattention blindness, and can cause drivers to miss stop lights, stop signs—and even pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.

What to Look for in Driver Distraction Reducing Technologies

Make sure the app or device you choose offers the most safety benefits, blocking both handheld and hands-free phone use, as well incoming and outgoing phone calls, social media and internet access, and, of course, texting. Check to see how much battery power the app uses so you do not find yourself with a drained phone battery. Most of the current apps and devices work with Android phones, but some may not work with Apple products, so make sure you check out the app or device thoroughly. Check reviews for your chosen product to ensure the app or device is easy to use and understand, and so you will know what the default settings are and whether those settings can be easily changed.

How Car Manufacturers are Helping Prevent Distracted Driving Accidents

Although automakers have placed plenty of technological distractions in vehicles, they are now attempting to deliver features which allow drivers to more safely interact with incoming texts and calls without taking their eyes off the road. As an example, Ford has developed a system known as SYNC, which can send a text dictated by the driver, and even read an incoming text out loud to the driver. While this is certainly safer than the driver typing or reading a text, it still offers at least some level of distraction as the driver’s mind is on the text rather than the road.

Ford also has a technology known as MyKey, which allows parents to block their teens’ calls and texts when the teen is behind the wheel. BMW recently unveiled plans for a “gesture” control technology which will allow the driver to simply point at the car’s navigation screen to take a phone call. GM is developing similar technology, however theirs is an “eye-tracking” technology which detects when drivers glance away at a text. Other auto manufacturers, recognizing the fact that drivers are not likely to break the habit of looking down at their phones are fitting new vehicles with technologies which allow the driver to keep their focus on the road, placing screens inside the vehicles within the driver’s field of vision.

Touch screen technologies in cars are unlikely to go away any time soon, particularly among Millennials, therefore car manufacturers are doing their best to make those technologies safer for the drivers and other drivers on the roadways. Going even one step further, car manufacturers are now including such technologies as forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking and lane departure assist for drivers who have lapses in attention, whether because of phone use or other distractions.

Contact Our Jackson Car Accident Lawyers

If you are involved in a car accident in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Mississippi car accident attorney who will protect your rights and assist you in receiving a fair settlement for your injuries.

At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe in fighting aggressively for injured Mississippi car accident victims – to ensure that they receive the money they need to fully recover. We can help you obtain the money you need to fully recover.

Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766 or click on the button below.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.