Distracted Driving, Automakers And Cell Phone Companies

There is an ongoing debate among safety advocates, car manufacturers and cell phone companies regarding distracted driving. The Department of Transportation, National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are all convinced that text messaging and cell phone use in general lead to distracted driving car accidents. They also believe that car makers should limit the potential distractions to drivers. Auto makers believe that in-car technology can improve the situation by making technology easier to use, which will in turn keep drivers from turning to their cell phones for information. Cell phone makers are reluctant to take any action that would discourage their customers from using their products.

Interestingly, drivers seem to fall on both sides of the fence at the same time. Some 87 percent of drivers support text messaging bans while nearly one third acknowledge that they have read an email or text while driving within the last month. Legislation banning text messaging has spread throughout the country. Safety groups like the NTSB have called for a ban on all cell phone use while driving. These sweeping changes in law and attitude have come with little reliable research regarding the actual impact of cell phones on driving.

Cell phone use has undeniably exploded in the past decade. Despite that increase, the number of car accidents per mile driven has not risen accordingly. Also on the increase is the presence of built-in technology such as navigation devices and integrated wireless devices in new vehicles. As part of the war on distracted driving, the NHTSA has asked auto makers to limit the functionality of in-car technology while the car is in motion. Without data to support the danger, auto makers are pushing back on the suggested restrictions.

While most people accept that text messaging and driving do not mix, few are willing to voluntarily stop using their cell phones while driving. Without further evidence regarding their products and distracted driving, car and cell phone companies have little reason to address a perceived safety issue. The question remains as to what action should be taken, and by whom, to reduce distracted driving accidents.

Source: USA Today, “Disconnects in the distracted-driving blame game,” by Jayne O’Donnell, 29 April 2012