Distracted driver

Sincerely Stefanie: Technology is Distracting

With continually-emerging technologies such as smartphones and in-car entertainment, driving is becoming increasingly risky.

I’m always on-the-go. From work to running to grocery shopping, there’s always some place I need to be.

Luckily, my vehicle has a variety of features such as built-in navigation, vehicle speed warning and a back-up camera to get me to my location safe and sound.

If I begin to select a destination while my car is in drive, a warning indicating the navigation feature should not be in use displays on the screen. My vehicle beeps when my car gets too close to an object and also when I’m not wearing a seat belt. However, I’m still not 100 percent safe if I choose to ignore those warnings.

“Our complacency is killing us,” says Deborah A.P. Hersman, National Safety Council (NSC) president and CEO. “Americans believe there is nothing we can do to stop crashes from happening, but that isn’t true. The U.S. lags the rest of the developed world in addressing highway fatalities. We know what needs to be done; we just haven’t done it.”

Despite measures such as “infotainment” dashboards and hands-free technology, the NSC found that 53 percent of drivers think they must be safe when those very features actually are distracting.

“With some state laws focusing on handheld bans, many drivers honestly believe they are making the safe choice by using a hands-free device. But, in fact, these technologies distract our brains even long after you’ve used them,” the organization states on its web site.

So why haven’t we done anything yet? Could it be because we always are traveling, that we don’t have time to stop and think about what we are doing before we take action? Or is it because emerging technologies are distracting drivers instead of keeping them out of harm’s way?

Regardless, the fact remains that Americans spend a significant time on the road. AAA estimates we spend on average about 17,600 minutes driving each year.

“The amount of time the average driver spends behind the wheel each year is equivalent to seven 40-hour weeks at the office,” says Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “It’s clear that traveling by car remains a central part of American’s lives.”

Recent NSC survey results indicate how much risk U.S. drivers are willing to take. Although 83 percent believe that getting behind the wheel is a safety concern, 64 percent of those surveyed admit they are comfortable speeding, and 47 percent of respondents text either manually or through voice controls.

With an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana, driving while impaired could become more problematic in the future. In fact, 13 percent of drivers said they have no qualms about driving while impaired by marijuana, and 10 percent even indicated they would drive after they have had too much alcohol.

In the end, reducing these preventable accidents needs to be a team effort. Americans need to step back and realize that multitasking while driving is not the answer. In addition, the NSC provides the following measures that need to be taken to get to what it calls the “Road to Zero” for traffic fatalities:

• Mandate ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers and better education about the nature of impairment and when it begins.
• Install and use automated enforcement techniques to catch speeders.
• Extend laws banning all cell phone use – including hands-free – to all drivers, not just teens; upgrade enforcement from secondary to primary in states with existing bans.
• Upgrade seat belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement and extend restraint laws to every passenger in every seating position in all kinds of vehicles.
• Adopt a three-tiered licensing system for all new drivers under 21 – not just those under 18.
• Standardize and accelerate into the fleet automotive safety technologies with life-saving potential, including blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive headlights.
• Pass or reinstate motorcycle helmet laws.
• Adopt a comprehensive program for pedestrian safety.

As 2018 begins, let’s reflect on the previous year with a quote from my July 2017 column:

The bottom line is true of all safety initiatives: taking ownership. Be cognizant of what you’re doing while you’re driving. Make a playlist; indicate your destination in your navigation or select a radio station before you leave the driveway. Set up an automatic text to send to someone who contacts you while you’re on the road. If you’re a passenger, don’t be afraid to point out distracting behavior. Make a commitment to drive safe during your commute, on the job and while you’re out and about after work and during weekends. 

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