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War on Distracted Drivers

The light had just turned green and Carolyn who had finished picking up a few items at the grocery store was on her way home. She hoped to get home before the food began to thaw. Joanne a busy mother of two was also approaching the same busy intersection in the cross bound lanes.  In the back seat was Joanne’s two year old daughter, safely strapped into her car seat.

Joanne was running late getting home, she was busy texting her husband, letting him know that she was on her way. Joanne began to drive faster as her anxiety grew, never taking notice that the other cars alongside her were slowing to stop. The light that had just turned from amber to red.

Just as Carolyn reached the middle of the intersection Joanne’s car was there too, the two cars collided. Joanne’s car was hit just behind the rear door where her daughter was sitting. Both cars began to spin wildly. When the dust settled their was broken glass and crumpled twisted steel, but luckily no one was seriously hurt.

As it happens a police officer was also sitting at the light and saw the whole incident. He saw Joanne texting and driving thru the light at high speed. Joanne was ticketed on the scene for careless driving and running a red light. Yet she knows she was fortunate that day, her daughter is safe and no one else was injured.

This true scenario and others similar to it are being played out all over America’s roadways, often with much more serious or even deadly results. Distracted driving is one of the top priorities on the list of accident causing problems of which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking to curtail.

The NHTSA has issued the first of three reports concerning the growth of distracted driving in this country. The term “distraction” includes anything that diverts the driver’s attention away from the task of driving. These distractions can be from electronic devices such as cell phone, navigation systems, computers or more conventional distractions such as interacting with passengers and even eating. The report is designed to promote voluntary safe driving habits. It recommends a state by state ban on the use of any type of mobile device while driving, which includes hand held and hands free devices, including those devices placed in the car by the manufacturer. The agency recommends that those built in devices be designed so that the driver cannot use them while driving. The recommendations are more restrictive than any state laws on the books currently. At this time 35 states ban texting while driving, nine states and many municipalities ban the use of hand held devices altogether.

"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways – that's why I've made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel," said NHTSA Secretary Ray LaHood. "These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."

“We know that this recommendation is going to be very unpopular with some people, says   NTSB (National Transportation Board) chairwoman Barbara Hersman. “We’re not here to win a popularity contest. We’re her to do the right thing. No call, no text, no update is worth a human life.”

The agency studied the data from tests it performed on drivers performing secondary tasks. Secondary tasks include communications, entertainment, informational, interactions with passengers, navigation and reaching for objects.

Text messaging was found to be the most distracting of all secondary tasks while phone dialing was found to be only slightly less distracting than texting. The use of navigation equipment was also found to impair a driver’s ability to react and it recommends that those tasks need not be performed while driving but can instead be performed while the vehicle is stationary.

An estimated 899,000 of all police reported crashes involved a report of a distracted driver in 2010. Of those 899,000 crashes, 26,000 specifically stated that the driver was engaged in the use of an integrated device, 47,000 specifically stated that the driver was distracted by a cell phone.

NHTSA has opted to pursue nonbinding, voluntary guidelines rather than a mandatory
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) for three principal reasons.

  • • First, this is an area in which learning continues, and NHTSA believes that, at this time, continued research is both necessary and important.

  • • Second, technology is changing rapidly, and a static rule, put in place at this time, may face unforeseen problems and issues as new technologies are developed and introduced.

  • • Third, the available data is not sufficient at this time to permit an accurate estimation of the benefits and costs of a mandatory rule in this area. NHTSA’s firm belief that there are safety benefits to be gained by limiting and reducing driver distractions due to integrated electronic devices is sufficient reason for issuing the NHTSA Guidelines, but in order to issue a rule, we need a defensible estimate of the magnitude of such benefits and the corresponding

The NHTSA is asking device manufacturers to take into account the findings that were presented in their reports along with the findings presented by the guidelines developed by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers when designing new devices so that they can be made safer for drivers to interact with during the operation of a motor vehicle.

The NHTSA Guidelines recommend against designing in-vehicle electronic systems that allow drivers to perform the following activities while the vehicle is “moving”

• Visual-manual text messaging,
• Visual-manual internet browsing,
• Visual-manual social media browsing,
• Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address, and
• Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing

It is hoped that automobile manufacturers will implement these guidelines on a voluntary basis in an all-out effort to improve driving safety. Already many auto makers are currently rolling out designs that integrate technology for smart phones that allow for motorist to have text messages, Tweets and Facebook messages read aloud. This along with new and improving two way voice communications technology will greatly improve these devices in the not too distant future.