Tech Law

New Program Looks to Laws, Ads and Tech to Curb Texting While Driving

One in three high school students has texted or emailed someone while driving a vehicle over the past 30 days, a study by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found.

The CDC said motor vehicle crashes account for more than one-third of U.S. teen fatalities each year.

Those are numbers the Department of Transportation aims to curb. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced a blueprint for ending distracted driving. This comprehensive strategy outlines steps to pass more laws and rope in technological solutions.

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money

Thirty-nine states in the U.S., the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Guam already ban texting behind the wheel. LaHood’s plan encourages the remaining 11 to enact and enforce such legislation. It also calls on automakers to adopt new and future guidelines for technology to reduce the potential for distraction on devices built or brought into vehicles.

Further, the blueprint partners with driving instructors to incorporate education on driver distraction and its consequences into their curricula. The blueprint also provides all stakeholders with actions they can take that go beyond personal responsibility to help end distracted driving nationwide.

Drivers under the age of 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or emails while driving, the Department of Transportation (DoT) said, citing data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA also found that more than three quarters of drivers were willing to answer calls while traveling.

In 2010, nearly 3,100 people in the U.S. were killed in crashes where the drivers were distracted, the DoT said. This is about 10 percent of the year’s total road fatalities.

LaHood also announced that the DoT will provide California and Delaware with US$2.4 million in federal funds for pilot programs that will examine whether increased police enforcement coupled with paid media and news coverage will significantly reduce distracted driving over a widespread area. These projects are scheduled to kick off in the fall.

DoT spokesperson Jose Alberto Ucles was unable to provide further by deadline.

Crime and Punishment

“There’s no question that cellphone use is distracting, and that’s especially true for teenage drivers because they’re more susceptible to distraction, but it’s not clear that more laws will be the solution,” Russ Rader, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told TechNewsWorld.

The Institute’s research “indicates that the laws are having no effect on reducing crashes,” Rader said. Further, “there’s no indication that teens abide by the laws once they’re implemented.”

A study conducted by the Institute in in North Carolina found that cellphone use while driving actually increased among teenagers leaving high schools in the afternoon after a law against it was passed.

“About 11 percent of teen drivers were observed using cellphones before the laws took effect, and that rose to 12 percent after the laws took effect,” Rader disclosed. “Cellphone use by teens remained steady at about 13 percent at a comparison site in South Carolina where they had no such law.”

The Gods of Technology

Laws on cellphone use while driving may not be effective, but “there may be technological solutions out there that hold the promise, at least, of being more effective,” Rader suggested.

One example is a forward collision warning system, which uses cameras or radar to monitor the road ahead of the vehicle and alert the driver if there’s a hazard.

Or carmakers could implement a solution that intervenes and brakes the vehicle automatically if the driver doesn’t, like this one.

These systems will “soon be showing up on more mainstream vehicles,” Rader stated. “We don’t know how effective these systems are going to be yet, but they have the potential of being the first possible countermeasures to deal with distracted driving.”

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