We’ve been talking about steps we can take to prevent distracted driving for way too long. It seems to me the talk isn’t changing driver behavior. Regardless of all the campaigns and good intentions the numbers continue to reveal there is an epidemic in this country and it’s just not getting better unless we take some serious actions to keep us all safe when we are on the road.

Many of us are thinking it but don’t want to say it, so I will. It’s also pretty obvious most of the vendors that say they are committed to preventing distracted driving are really more concerned about making money. I know this is a pretty harsh statement, but the numbers don’t lie and we now have the data to prove it.

Here’s the harsh reality. According to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Assn.) 660,000 drivers in the U.S., are using cellphones or other devices at any given moment during daylight hours. In 2012, more than 3,328 people were killed on the road, and 421,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. What’s more, The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study and discovered more than 95% oppose texting or emailing while driving. However, more two-thirds admit to talking on a cellphone while driving. Ironically, more than a third openly admit to reading texts or emails while behind the wheel. Sadly of those, a fourth openly confess to sending a text or email while driving. To make matters worse, on an annual basis, distracted driving is linked to more than 1 million accidents in North America alone and those accidents result in serious injury, death, and an economic impact of almost $40 billion a year.

These are horrific numbers. And yet we haven’t been able to put a dent in this rising epidemic. While carriers and automakers acknowledge the seriousness of the problem, they continue to brag about all the social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter feeds, photos) and a host of other items in the dashboard or cockpit of a vehicle that adds to driver distraction. While these companies participate in campaigns encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel they tout these feeds and photos in the dashboard as essential to enriching the driving experience. It seems to me they are just talking out of both ends of their mouths. Smarter heads need to prevail and stop the madness. That is why I have proposed seven key action items to stir carriers and automakers away from focusing on “what’s cool” and more on what will keep our roads safe.

In honor of the fourth annual national Distracted Driving month I think it’s time we take greater steps to prevent distraction and save lives no matter who is behind the wheel day or night. That means forcing everyone to play a part in preventing distraction. We have the technology to completely eradicate accidents and to prevent unnecessary deaths due to distracted driving.

With the types of cellphones, hands-free devices, and technologically advanced vehicles now available, we have the power to end all distracted-driving incidents right now. To date, 42 states currently ban texting for all drivers, which addresses the issue, not the solution. The conversation needs to be education and steering towards real solutions. We’ve been saying we need to get motorists to stop texting, but it’s more important to explain why texting is a recipe for disaster. It’s essential to encourage everyone to keep their eyes on the road. If they have in-vehicle technology drivers need to master their voice commands. Most people can barely navigate around their own smartphones, let alone comfortably use in-car voice technology. If we collectively focused on taking advantage of what we already have available to us we see the number of accidents rapid plummet.

It’s imperative we begin the education early. Although I am recommending preventing the use of handheld cellphones while operating a vehicle; on the flipside, hands-free or voice navigation systems must be demonstrable during licensure testing, similar to passing a vision or actual driving test. There’s no doubt hands-free calling systems vary widely from one car to the next.

Some of these variables include whether the car has a flat-panel display, call buttons on the steering wheel, and so on. Many of today’s new hands-free systems simply allow phone pairing, (which include easy-to-hear phone conversations through your car’s speakers), and intuitive call buttons on your steering wheel (which let you answer and make calls without ever taking your hands off the wheel). Other items in hands-free car systems let you import a lot of contacts and other information from your phone which is displayed on the car’s flat-panel or touchscreen. A driver can often make a call from contacts with a voice command — just by saying something like “phone Tom.” 

As for older cars, drivers will be compelled to demonstrate effective use of any clip-on devices that take advantage of Bluetooth enabled products that allow them to work wirelessly with a cellphone after a one-time pairing procedure.

Until now, we have only put a Band-Aid on a major wound. We have conditioned ourselves to using cellphones anytime, anyplace. Instead of gradually trying to change the problem, let’s all come together to really educate, use technology, and even regulate to change our behavior once and for all.

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