Today’s drivers are more distracted than ever and it’s no surprise the consequences are growing. The most recent NHSTA data published in April stated that 3,179 people were killed and an estimated 431,000 injured in car collisions as a result of distracted driving in 2014. Furthermore, 10% of all fatal car crashes and 18% of injury crashes were caused by unfocused drivers. That percentage likely increased this year, as overall crash fatalities for the country were estimated to be 9.3% higher in 2015 than the previous year.
Despite these alarming statistics, people are becoming more addicted to their phones, not less, and distracted driving continues to grow more rampant around the country. Individuals are on their phones constantly—in fact, 70% of drivers admit to using their phone while driving. One study even suggests that distracted driving may very well be the “new drunk driving.”
With the “100 Deadliest Days” approaching—the period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day that statistically has the highest number of collisions—it’s time for big change.
What’s the best way to combat this pervasive behavior? Now that an industry has formed around it, here’s a look at the three main ways the country’s public and private sectors are working to conquer bad driving and make the next 100 days safer on the road.
Fast, Free Auto Insurance Quotes
There is now a variety of driving apps available to help curb distracted driving. Some measure driver performance such as acceleration, turning and hard braking, while others are geared toward eliminating all phone use behind the wheel.
One app focused on improving drivers, EverDrive, monitors driving skills and allows consumers to compete with other drivers in their region. Users can review multiple aspects of their driving and improve their habits over time. The goal of mobile apps like this is to make drivers more conscious behind the wheel, in a fun and competitive manner, and as a result, decrease distracted driving rates across the country.
For those who don’t trust themselves to keep their cell phones down, or find Facebook and SnapChat to be too enticing, mobile apps like LifeSaver and CellControl may be the perfect fix. They both block cell phone usage while driving by locking the phone screen and operating silently in the background. CellControl also uses an in-vehicle device, and both offer an emergency phone call or text option in case of a crisis. While these apps may work well for some drivers, others may find that they’re hearing about carrier apps—as insurers look for ways to improve driver behavior in order to lower the costs of claims.
Auto insurers are also now marketing their own driving apps, often in combination with usage-based tracking devices. They predict usage-based insurance (UBI) will increase tenfold within the next 7 years. UBI works by transmitting data about a driver to their insurer, sometimes through a dongle installed in the car’s diagnostic port or through a built-in system like OnStar. The safer a driver is, the more they may be able to save. Many carriers now offer their UBI in connection with an app to monitor safe driving skills. One research study suggested telematics devices do change drivers’ behavior, and for those who fear they may increase their rates, apps like EverDrive and CellControl may be a better choice.
Improving drivers’ behavior on an individual basis may be the strongest bet for reducing distracted driving statistics. If enough people are intrinsically interested in improving upon their skills or at the very least, in testing them, then the roads may become safer. For drivers who struggle with self-motivation, there is a greater authority to adhere to.
States are also working to solve the widespread distracted driving problem by enforcing stricter laws. As of now, 46 states have banned texting while driving and 14 have completely prohibited hand-held phone use. Government organizations have also taken to social media with hashtags like #TakeBackYourDrive, #ArriveAlive and Twitter shaming with #JustDrive.
That said, having the laws may not be enough. While citations for cell phone use have increased in some states like Massachusetts and New York, distracted driving is also growing and police officers find it difficult to spot texters and callers.
Some states are stepping further into new territory to stop distracted driving. New York has proposed a Textalyzer law that would give police officers permission to check drivers’ phones for recent activity, much like the way drivers must consent to a Breathalyzer. In D.C., an advisory panel recently asked lawmakers to consider banning all phone usage, handheld and hands-free for everyone, as the National Safety Council has found that hands-free calling is still a significant distraction to drivers.
For the states that have passed laws, fines for distracted driving range dramatically. Texting while driving in Colorado may get a driver a $50 fine but typing the same text in Alaska may hit drivers with a $10,000 fine and up to one year in prison.
With such disparate punishments, state laws’ effectiveness is difficult to measure. Stricter fines may work well in some states if enough drivers are caught, but a smaller fine may not be enough to get drivers to stop. Until the laws are as strict as they are for drunk driving, major change may not occur.
After all, the fight against distracted driving is essentially a fight against behavior. If the laws are succeeding in changing that behavior, they may work. Yet some may need to be a bit stricter first.
Driver Assistance Technology
For those who can afford a newer car with all the bells and whistles, driving assist technology may be the ideal solution to curb distracted driving. Everyday, more vehicles are being sold equipped with a form of driver assistance, and the technology is no longer reserved for upgraded car packages. Known as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), these driver assist features can include everything from rearview cameras to automated braking and blind spot monitors.
Subaru, for example, now offers Eyesight Systems which includes pre-collision braking, lane swaying detection, adaptive cruise control, and even pre-collision throttle management to help lower the impact of a crash. The Tesla Model S has a similar system that notifies drivers if they exceed the speed limit and vibrates the steering wheel if a driver begins to lane drift.
All of these features will help improve road safety, and ideally, help drivers improve upon their own skills. Something as small as a blind spot camera can make a real difference on roadways. Of course, drivers still need to make the choice to put their cell phones down, and not get comfortable in relying on their car’s intelligence to compensate. Measuring whether this technology is capable of changing drivers’ behaviors is hard to estimate.
Not to be dismissed, self-driving cars will eventually stake their claim in the war against unsafe driving, as distracted drivers will no longer have to be drivers at all. Cars that drive perfectly according to proven algorithms will likely create safer roads. However, it may be 15-20 years before drivers experience their full effect and we need safer roads now.
With the distracted driving accident rates growing daily, and the “100 Deadliest Days” approaching, it’s imperative drivers use the discussed apps, legislation and/or new car technologies to stay more focused behind the wheel. Too many innocent lives have been lost to continue to ignore this nationwide crisis. We have the solutions. It’s time to use them.