This is the second segment of a series about distracted driving, which will focus on the troubling trend of motorists using electronic devices while operating a vehicle. Studies continue to surface explaining the problem with driving while conducting phone calls and using text messaging. The risk of a crash increases roughly 3.6 times when drivers use mobile devices. Across the U.S. there are over 320 million wireless internet connections. A recent report indicates that as many as 9% of drivers may be simultaneously using mobile devices while driving on any given day. A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study revealed that over 60% of drivers claim to have spoken on a mobile phone while operating a vehicle in the prior month; over 30% of these respondents indicated that they do so regularly.
The National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) is done each year by the National Center for Statistics & Analysis, which monitors active driver behavior along various types of roadways. The recent findings indicate that drivers could be seen manipulating mobile devices with their hands approximately 2.2% of the time. Approximately 3% of drivers were seen using a handheld phone for calls. Based on their data, about 542,000 drivers may be using handheld devices at one time in the U.S. Their findings suggest that females are more likely to use devices while driving and that those 16 to 24 years of age comprise the largest age segment. A University of Utah report showed that drivers using mobile devices reacted slower than those under the influence of alcohol. In Colorado, distracted driving is estimated to cause 16% of crashes involving injuries.
Braking & Reaction Capabilities
Delays in responsiveness and reaction time occur when drivers are using mobile devices. Drivers using devices take longer to properly reduce their speed in work (construction) zones and were more likely to use their brakes abruptly. The risk of side-swipe accidents and rear-end collisions also rises with device usage regardless of whether the driver uses “hands-free” methods, as these drivers took longer to engage the brakes. Hands-free options have largely been deemed as a solution to the problem for conducting phone calls, but the reality is that driver cognition is noticeably reduced in terms of reacting to roadway activity and accident avoidance if on the phone, regardless if using hands or not.
Applications to Prevent Distraction
In recognition of the enormity of the problems that mobile device usage by motorists causes, many new applications have been created to address the problem, including the following:
- AT&T DriveMode: This solution can be activated automatically when a driver exceeds 15 miles per hour. It temporarily silences inbound calls and texts and sends an automated response indicating the user is driving. Parents may establish a notification alert when DriveMode is disabled.
- Life Saver: This app works in conjunction with the GPS program on the phone. For Android users, it blocks incoming communications while operating a vehicle, allows parents to monitor the activity of the driver, and enables drivers to earn rewards for usage.
- SafeRide: This application integrates Bluetooth systems and is capable of detecting when a driver enters a vehicle. The program silences any phone alerts and disables touchscreen functionality. Any notifications received while driving is then accessible when the driver arrives at the destination.
The vast majority of states have implemented laws regarding electronic device usage; however, enforcement of such laws is not easy. Determining whether a driver was actually using an electronic device prior to an accident can be challenging, particularly compared to other reckless actions, such as impaired driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that approximately 46 states have banned drivers from using text messaging. In Missouri, the texting ban is solely for drivers under 21 years of age. In Washington, drivers are prohibited from holding mobile electronic devices while operating a vehicle. Texas requires drivers to come to a stop before initiating any texting or usage of electronic mail. In Colorado, it is technically not illegal to text and drive unless you do so carelessly. Roughly 14 states have adopted a total ban on use of such devices by those driving.
In the coming years, we will likely see the penalties and means of enforcement of these laws enhanced significantly.