A driver whose pick-up truck rear-ended a school bus in Albany, Ga., told police he was reaching to change his radio station at the time, WALB reported recently. The accident, which occurred when the bus was stopped to drop children off, sent the bus driver, the truck driver and nine children to a local hospital.
The AAA Foundation names distracted driving as one of the top traffic safety issues for drivers. In its annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, the foundation reports that more than 80 percent of drivers cite distraction as a serious problem that makes them feel unsafe on the roadways. The organization points out that the federal government estimates that distraction contributes to 16 percent of all fatal crashes, leading to around 5,000 deaths a year.
As technology becomes more sophisticated, safety experts are more concerned than ever about the dangers of distracted driving.
Guidelines for Manufacturers
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued guidelines in 2013 to encourage manufacturers to reduce distractions caused by navigational or infotainment systems installed in new cars. The agency urged car companies to restrict systems that allow drivers to push buttons or manually input addresses or other data while a vehicle is moving. The guidelines do not restrict voice-activated systems, however.
These guidelines are designed to make sure drivers do not take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time.
In February, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia held a forum advising car companies to move faster on implementing standards for in-car technology. Automakers are promoting voice-based messaging as a safer alternative to systems that require drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel to place a phone call or use other mobile devices.
And the trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers actively advocates banning any texting or use of cell phones while driving.
Hands-Free Technology Also Distracting
Motorists experience serious mental distractions when using mobile technology, even when they keep both hands on the steering wheel and their eyes on the road, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Research has found that as mental workload and distractions increase, reaction time slows and cognitive function is compromised. Drivers can miss visual clues, hampering safety on the road.
Infotainment systems in new vehicles are expected to grow five times over by 2018, and AAA is calling for action, using the findings to promote a dialogue with policy makers, safety advocates and the auto industry to ensure these in-vehicle technologies don’t compromise public safety.
The National Safety Council keeps a running count of auto accidents involving drivers using handheld devices. That number ticks up every 30 seconds and in mid-May was approaching 400,000 crashes this year.
Today, more than 40 states, including Georgia, have passed laws banning texting while driving, and some states have banned all use of handheld devices behind the wheel. Georgia imposes a $150 fine for violating its texting law and adds one driver’s license point for each offense.
In April, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced a national advertising campaign and law enforcement crackdown to combat distracted driving. The “U Drive. U Text. U Pay” campaign reminds drivers of the deadly consequences associated with distracted driving, as well as the penalties for violating distracted driving laws.
According to Distraction.gov, the U.S. government website on distracted driving, the following activities are considered distracting:
- Using a cellphone or smartphone
- Eating and drinking
- Talking to passengers
- Reading, including maps
- Using a navigation system
- Watching a video
- Adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player
The website reports 171 billion texts are sent every month in the United States, and approximately 600,000 Americans are using their phones while driving at any given moment. In 2012 accidents distracted driving killed 3,328 people.