Death by txt – Numbers show SMS and driving don’t mix
7 Oct 2010 Jason 15
Most of us know that a distracted driver is a dangerous driver but now the numbers prove it conclusively.
The numbers comes from an analysis at the University of North Texas school of public health, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study showed that 16,000 drivers were killed by handset use between 2001 and 2007. That’s over six people dying every day from cell phone related accidents.
Why is texting, or talking, while driving so dangerous and what are we doing to save those six lives needlessly lost every day?
Driver distractions – A recipe for disaster
Firstly why is cell phone handset use so dangerous, even fatal, for drivers? Probably the main reason is because driving is a full-time job. And while the brain is an amazing thing it has its limits. There is only so much information it can cope with at any given moment (hence why no one can truly multi-task properly!) and it will deal with tasks in a more linear fashion than in parallel.
This means while you’re reading that text that’s just come flashed through on your phone and trying to understand the joke, your brain isn’t overly conscious of the fact that the car in front of you has had to come to a complete stop. We all know what happens next.
You might think you can handle reading a harmless text while driving but tests have shown otherwise. A study performed by Car and Driver magazine (unscientific by their own admission) compared braking results between normal driving, driving while reading a text, while writing a text and under the influence of several alcoholic drinks. The results threw up some surprises with texting worsening reaction times by 600% compared to someone impaired by alcohol. Reading texts was actually more dangerous than writing them. Even the “best” results for texting while driving still resulted in traveling an extra four feet than normal, which can be the difference between a near miss and a solid hit resulting in possibly injury or at least an expensive trip to the shop for your car.
Of course, there’s every chance you might have texted or talked on the phone while driving many times before and nothing happened. Count yourself lucky. By continuing this practice you’re increasing the chances of being in an accident several hundred percent – those aren’t good odds.
Distracted drivers – what’s the solution?
Law makers are being persuaded to legislate against this dangerous practice, particularly in light of the growing evidence that talking or texting while using a mobile phone lead to an increase in accidents or accident-related deaths.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to police and the urge for drivers to ‘multi-task’ because of work pressures or running late override concern for their own safety or that it’s breaking the law.
Some other solutions put forward have included:
- Block the signal – Blocking cellphone signals inside the car
- Harsher punishments – Increasing the penalties if caught
- Hands-free – Forcing the use of hands-free car kits (or forcing cellphone makers to include them as standard equipment)
- Awareness – Increasing awareness of the dangers through advertising campaigns
- Technology such as HUD displays – Making the technology easier to use (phones that display messages on the windscreen using heads-up display technology – potentially embarrassing if it’s a message from your MD with the results from ‘those’ tests)
- Self-driving vehicles – Self-driving cars that use GPS to take over the role of responsible driver when the current one is distracted (some car makers have already introduced self-braking technology that automatically applies the brakes if the car is deemed to be approaching a solid object too quickly)
While there is no simple solution, the answer clearly lies in developing better technology to combat the problem for two important reasons. Firstly, it could be argued that technology created the problem in the first place so thus should be responsible for fixing it, and secondly, human behavior is a thousand times harder to change than technology.
Fleet managers – The answer is easy
For commercial drivers who use a fleet management system, the solution is simple. Just remove the temptation to use a mobile device while driving. Using Telogis DriveSafe, fleet managers can block use of mobile devices while the vehicle is moving.
What’s your opinion – is texting while driving dangerous?