How Can We Stop Drivers From Texting and Driving?
We have all likely seen drivers looking down at their cell phones while driving. At times, we may even be able to observe drivers texting or typing on their smartphones. The advent of the smartphone has helped people in many ways by making communication instant and convenient. This device has also inflicted some harm because individuals across the nation continue to text and drive or engage in other dangerous behaviors with their smartphone.
At Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, our Atlanta car accident attorneys meet with victims of distracted driving on a regular basis. We know how devastating a texting while driving accident can be. Each time we meet a client injured due to a texting driver, we wonder what else can be done to prevent such accidents in the future. Accordingly, the following is a look at some proposed ideas for ending the dangerous phenomena of texting and driving:
How Prevalent is the Problem?
Before we delve into potential solutions, it is important to recognize the magnitude of the problem posed by texting and driving. Distraction.org, the United States government's website dedicated to distracted driving, reports that over 3,000 people are killed in distracted driving related car crashes each year. Moreover, it is believed that at least ten percent of all teens killed in distracted driving accidents were also distracted at the time.
Researchers across the country have attempted to determine how often drivers text behind the wheel. One report published by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows Americans are distracted more than 50 percent of the time they are behind the wheel. To conduct the study, researchers mounted cameras on the cars of 3,500 drivers. The results were shocking. In 70 percent of observed accidents, the cameras filmed observable distraction. Texting resulted in hundreds of accidents and even just talking on the phone doubled accident rates.
A texting and driving survey conducted by AT&T last year was equally as troubling. The survey found that 61 percent of drivers reported texting while driving. Another over 40 percent of drivers logged into social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Other road users admit to shooting videos, using Snapchat, surfing the web, emailing, and even video chatting. A self-reported 62 percent of drivers keep their smartphone within easy reach while driving.
While there are many activities that can be dangerous while driving, texting is perhaps the most insidious and deadly. Texting draws the driver's eyes, hands, and attention from the wheel for several seconds at a time. It is as dangerous as traveling 55 miles per hour the length of a football field while blindfolded.
Given the clear and undeniable dangers of texting and driving, it is understandable that so many safety agencies have attempted to discover solutions to the problem. Unfortunately, despite countless campaigns warning of the dangers of distracted driving, texting while driving continues. This has led many to consider potential alternative methods to curbing the practice.
Some who are troubled by persistent texting while driving despite bans on the practice and aggressive ad campaigns have proposed that texting while driving be treated similarly to drunken driving. The New York Times took a look at this important issue and summarized some recent suggestions. According to the New York Times, Harvard's School of Public Health is developing a push based upon the designated driver campaigns started in the late 1980's. A new group called the Partnership for Distraction-Free Driving is putting pressure on social media companies to discourage driver distraction, like the pressure placed on bars to discourage drunk driving.
Perhaps even more revolutionary, a group of New York lawmakers propose giving police officers a new device called the Textalyzer. The concept borrows from the Breathalyzer. It works in the following manner: when a police officer arrives at the scene of an accident, the officer will ask for the driver's phone and will then use the Textalyzer to peer into the phone's history and check for recent activity.
This novel technology could determine whether a driver used their phone to text, email, or engage in any other behavior that is illegal under state law. Refusal to turn over your phone could result in suspension of your driver's license. While the proposal is facing some backlash due to privacy concerns, its proponents assure that the device would merely allow officers to determine if activity occurred, not the contents of the activity.
This device could truly make drivers stop and think before they touch their phones. Although texting while driving is already illegal in nearly every state, laws suffer from lax enforcement due to the difficulty of catching texting drivers. It is suggested that if New York adopts this practice, other states will soon follow suit.
Strengthening Laws and Enforcement
Others urge that merely strengthening and enforcing existing laws will decrease rates of texting while driving. Looking to seatbelt laws in the 1970's, it does appear stringent enforcement of seatbelt use through "Click it or Ticket" penalties did greatly improve adherence to the law. Texting and driving bans vary by state, with some states only allowing texting while driving fines if the driver was stopped for another lawful reason.
In Georgia, O.C.G.A. 40-6-241.2 makes it illegal for drivers in Georgia to text and drive. The statute prevents all drivers ages 18 or older from writing, sending, or receiving any text-based communication. Drivers under the age of 18 are banned from using any cell phone device.
Georgia's texting ban is considered a primary law, meaning that police officers can stop a driver for texting, and drivers can face fines or points on their license. Many other states have weaker so-called secondary enforcement laws, where a police officer can only issue a texting while driving citation if the driver has committed another traffic offense.
The problem with even primary distracted driving laws is enforcement. Texting while driving is a hard to catch behavior because so many drivers can conceal their smartphones. Police officers across the country have sought ways to catch texting drivers, but the problem continues. A potential means of combating texting while driving could include having police agencies across the country increase efforts to catch texting drivers. Perhaps certain days could be selected locally or nationally for officers to specifically be on the lookout for potential texting drivers. Even further, texting while driving laws could be strengthened by increasing the fines and other penalties for being caught texting and driving. Studies show that this behavior is just as dangerous as driving drunk, but penalties for distracted driving pale in comparison to those for a DUI. Perhaps it is time they start mirroring one another more closely.
Safer Alternatives to Texting While Driving
Another proposal to decrease texting while driving is to improve the effectiveness of hands-free devices and vehicle infotainment systems. Currently, most new vehicles are equipped with infotainment systems that will connect to your smartphone. Some are considered just as distracting as using your phone, but others intelligently allow users to text, change music, and more using voice controls.
The proponents of improving voice control and infotainment centers acknowledge that for many Americans the temptation to text while driving is simply too great. Rather than fight this element of human behavior, we as a society should offer safer alternatives that will be easy to implement and that will work effectively so that drivers have no reason to return to using their device.
Could Self-Driving Vehicles Allow Us to Safely Text and Drive?
It is widely accepted that automated cars will eventually become the transportation of the future. Google and several major automakers have now been testing self-driving vehicles for years. While the commercial sale of these vehicles is still several years away, technology is rapidly moving in this direction.
In a similar vein to the argument for improved infotainment centers, it has been suggested that pushing for the earlier release of self-driving vehicles will put a stop to texting while driving accidents. If automated vehicles are in charge of our safe transport, we become free to text, check emails, read, and perform a wide array of work or social tasks all while traveling to our destination. Self-driving vehicles eliminate the risks of distracted driving and seem to be more in line with our society's seemingly almost compulsive need to multi-task.
While this solution holds considerable merit, it is not an instant fix. Even if more money is put into developing self-driving vehicles, there will likely be a gradual progression, with semi-automated vehicles hitting the road first. The first automated cars can allow the vehicle to direct itself, with the driver taking over in the event of an emergency. If the driver was texting or using their smartphone for another purpose, they could fail to react in time.
Opponents to this idea suggest that new car technologies are in fact heightening the problem of texting and driving. Once such opinion is espoused here. The argument is that lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control, and other new features may incentivize drivers to text and drive because the vehicle will react in time to stop an accident. Rather than put money into technology that will only increase America's mobile technology reliance, perhaps funds would be better spent on high-speed trains or educating drivers.
Towards a Better Solution
Lawmakers and the public have not yet reached an agreement as to how to best combat texting and driving. Despite disagreements, it is positive to see so much thought and discussion being given to this area. With heightened focus on the problem of texting while driving, we are sure to reach a solution shortly. Our car accident attorneys at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, will remain involved in ending texting and driving as well as stay abreast of new laws, technologies, ideas, and more that might save thousands of lives annually.
Put Our Law Firm's Over 37 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case!
Texting and driving is a problem of national significance. If you have been injured in a distracted driving accident or another type of car accident, the Atlanta Car Accident Lawyers at Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, offer the dedicated representation you need. For over 37 years, our firm has represented accident victims across Georgia, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state.
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