For years drivers have had the option of manually setting controls for things like headlamps, windshield wipers, temperature and fan speed, radio and turn signals while driving. With voice-activated Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and a multitude of other conveniences, it seems that
A study by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that there are more than 285 million wireless phone users in the United States. The NHTSA further estimates that at any given time 11 percent of the all drivers on the road are using a cellphone. Studies indicate that the number one cause of death, for persons aged three to 34 years of age, is a fatality from a vehicle crash.
The 2008 National Safety Council (NSC) report stated that about 25% of all vehicle crashes involved the driver using a cellphone. By the year 2010 the figure rose to 28% of all car crashes were caused or partially caused by cellphones.
It’s easy to see the correlation between cellphone usage and the increased potential for distractions in today’s newer vehicle. A major fallacy is that most people believe in the term “multi-tasking.” The idea is that with a little training and experience a driver can easily handle multiple functions and still maintain good driving technique. However, multiple studies have shown that the brain can only effectively handle one task effectively at one time. Additional tasks reduce the ability to stay focused on the initial task at hand.
A March 2010 White Paper by the NSC entitled “Understanding the distracted brain,” shows study after study that indicates that even using “hands-free” devices in the vehicle lowers a driver’s reaction times. The study also concludes that actually dialing and holding a cellphone while driving changes the reaction times of a driver so much that their responses are similar to someone who has been drinking alcohol.
More than 200 state bills have been introduced to ban cellphone usage (texting and talking) while driving. Federal employees are now banned from texting and driving. Effective January 1, 2012, commercial drivers have been put on notice to not use a hand-held phone while driving for talking or texting. In mid-March 2012, a bill, entitled Kelsey’s Law, advanced through the Michigan state senate. This law, named after a young driver that was distracted and killed while talking on a cellphone, would prohibit a certain drivers from using a cellphone.
At the core of these proposed bills is the thought that distractions while driving are the result of “inattention blindness.” A variety of studies show that a driver’s ability to scan across the approaching roadway field of view is severely hampered when more distractions are present in a vehicle. It’s one thing to be driving, listening to a radio and talking to a passenger in the vehicle. It’s another, more complicated, scenario when the driver is also conducting a phone conversation while trying to select another media source and merging lanes on a city street. At any moment, a bicycle or pedestrian may step into the street. A traffic light may change, or the vehicle ahead may put on the brakes, or any other number of traffic surprises may occur while a driver is momentarily distracted. Another term for this hyper-distracted state is “cognitive distraction.”
Of course, we can create more and more automated safety features, such as backup cameras, blind spot indicators, adaptive cruise control or lane usage monitors. These additional devices can monitor the driving conditions and assist the driver, however, shouldn’t the driver take responsibility for reducing the distractions and paying more attention to the road?
It seems drivers over the age of 40 have learned to drive in a less-distracted era. Many of these drivers choose to not get distracted while driving. Younger drivers, under the age of 25, don’t have the years of driving experience and are more prone to use in-vehicle