Oregon Distracted Driving: New Challenges, New Opportunities

Two articles published in recent days by the New York Times illustrate both the continuing challenge we all face in attempting to curb distracted driving and the paradox of technology – the cause of so many Oregon distracted driving problems –sometimes offering solutions to the very problems it helps create.

One Times article begins with a dramatic statistic: “at any moment during daylight hours, according to a new government study, 660,000 Americans are using cellphones or other electronic devices while driving.” The study cited by the newspaper concluded that years of anti-distracted driving campaigns have succeeded in raising public awareness but have been less successful in convincing individual Americans that their own behavior behind the wheel – as opposed to everyone else’s – is potentially part of the problem.

“Almost half of those surveyed, 48 percent, said they answered their cellphones while driving at least some of the time, and 58 percent said they continued to drive after picking up the phone. Fourteen percent said they still text or email while driving,” the Times reports. Those numbers were up significantly from last year’s NHTSA survey, in which they were 40 percent and ten percent respectively. Perhaps ironically, the survey also showed that “most drivers… support a ban on cellphone use and texting while driving, and 76 percent said they would likely say something if they were a passenger alongside a driver who was sending a text.”
So, people recognize the presence of a problem, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) are reluctant to acknowledge that they might be a part of it.

Enter technology, with the goal or solving problems created by… technology. As another Times story published a few days earlier noted, app designers are working to integrate smartphone technology into cars with a dual goal. First, if a driver’s eyes must be drawn away from the road then it is better to have them drawn toward a large-ish screen integrated into the vehicle’s dashboard as opposed to a much smaller screen held in a driver’s hand (a hand that, at a minimum, ought to be on the steering wheel). Second, and more importantly, to the extent that car makers can focus a driver’s attention on technology that is part of the car they have a greater ability to control his/her use of that technology.

For example, one app profiled in the article allows users to share their location with others via social media. Plugging a smartphone into the car – and therefore controlling the app via the car’s user interface rather than the phone’s – makes the data shared with friends more precise, but also allows the car to exercise some safety-minded control over the sharing. The software integrating the app and the car’s onboard computer, the Times writes, “was conceived partly as a way to make it unnecessary for people to text others about their locations.” As a Portland distracted driving lawyer this strikes me as a far from ideal solution (obviously it would be better if people just didn’t do this stuff while driving) but, still, a step in the right direction. I’ve written in the past about the challenges of technology in our cars. There is no foolproof way to prevent people from doing dangerous things behind the wheel. It is nice, however, to know that technology can at least mitigate some of the problems it helps to create.

New York Times: Drivers are still distracted, study finds

New York Times: Bits; Dashboard apps aim to overcome distracted driving

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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