The growing epidemic in this country—distracted driving—has resulted in far too many accidents and still has not stopped motorists from putting down their electronic devices while behind the wheel. Despite the dire consequences, this message has not resonated with motorists. What’s more, it is a known fact that we are 23 times more likely to be in a wreck if we text while driving. But these hard numbers still are not preventing the millions of people who pull out their smartphones to send a quick text to a friend, loved one, or colleague every day.
Even the education, not legislation—such as the AT&T commercials that have been broadcast on TV—have not had enough of an impact as millions of Americans just can’t help their connected-device addiction while behind the wheel.
As a result, the Governors Highway Safety Assn., or GHSA, has declared a new policy position that broadens its support for distracted driving legislation. Previously, the group supported a texting ban for all drivers, plus a total ban on electronic device use in the car for novice and school-bus drivers. However, under the new policy, the GHSA is seeking to ban all handheld electronic devices for all drivers. The GHSA says at this point texting bans by themselves have proven difficult to enforce and that it’s almost impossible to know when someone is actually texting.
With all due respect, it didn’t take a genius to know this ban on all handheld devices was coming. This move clearly puts all law enforcement in a better position to enforce the regulations. The GHSA sites the California Office of Traffic Safety, demonstrating more than 460,000 statewide handheld cellphone convictions in 2011, but only 15,000 led to texting convictions.
This stance by the GHSA, whether you support it or not, just emphasizes the importance of the carriers and automakers to work together before the government puts a ban on all mobile devices in vehicles. While there is something to be said for voice-activated and hands-free technology in our cars, there needs to be a greater understanding of how smartphones will play a role in some in-vehicle connectivity for infotainment, safety, and navigation systems moving forward.
If the GHSA recommendation is adopted, in-car electronics that rely on smartphones for their connections such as the Ford SYNC, which can share information through its voice-activated user interface, MyFord Touch; or the Chevrolet MyLink, might be headed for a serious roadblock. Basically, the GHSA supports a ban on “electronic devices used for entertainment purposes with video screens that are within view of the driver.”
The GHSA believes that when on the road, all drivers should have their eyes on the road and should not be allowed to text, use cellphones or any other electronic devices, except to report a crash to emergency responders.
While the GHSA might mean well, I still believe we are heading in the wrong direction.
I urge legislators to consider working with technology companies in tandem to develop a better answer to this pressing problem. We are on the cusp of even greater technological advances. We need manufacturers, carriers, and regulators to find a way to put technology to even greater use rather than hiding it under a rock.