On Point with Tom Ashbrook on May 12th featured a show called “New Ways To Curb Distracted Driving.” So many people today engage in texting while driving. In 2014, 3,200 were killed in accidents involving distracted drivers. This is 10 percent of all traffic fatalities. In addition, 430,000 people are injured every year in distracted driving accidents.
Some safeguards do exist on automobiles, such as not being able to type in an address on a GPS while driving. But automakers keep installing touch screens that can capture the attention of the driver. Any task should not take more than 12 seconds and should be done with glances that don’t take one’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds.
In a study by Virginia Tech, drivers who engage in texting while driving are six times as likely to be involved in a crash. Just reaching for a phone increases the risk of crash by three times.
Texting and driving is a huge problem. But there are so many functions that can be accessed like email, Internet, Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. The days of texting without looking on a flip-phone are virtually over.
In New York, a new device called a “textalyzer” may be used in car accidents. It allows the police to look at the phone usage. It does not look at content. Rather, it looks at whether or not the phone was in use and whether it was legal or not.
The question remains whether or not voice recognition software is better than taking one’s eyes off the road to use a phone. The visual engagement seems to be the most dangerous form of distracted driving. New technology can read text messages to the driver and allows drivers to dictate texts. This will hopefully keep the drivers’ eyes on the road.
However, the voice recognition software doesn’t work properly. Oftentimes the user has to look down to make sure the text is right. There is a need for better voice recognition software. In our experience, the frustration that comes from the voice to text interface can be more distracting than the one word at a time texting process. As bad as it is, texting a word in a downward glance may only take your eyes off the road for a second. Having to proofread a text, or realizing after the fact that you have just texted gibberish, can involve more time with the eyes away from the road. Further, frustration involves mood issues that are far more distracting than the current research is accounting for. Anger takes the brain’s attentional capacity like nothing else.
Distracted driving is more than personal responsibility. Manufacturers have to stop creating more and more demands on our attention. One wonders if they ever tested these devices while actually trying to drive a car, especially one in traffic. Yes, it would be best if our culture didn’t require instant response. But to simply say it is a question of bad actors, is writing off at least one generation of people.