CHICAGO — Government studies show more than 3,000 people die as a result of driver distraction every year. Connected mobility expert Peggy Smedley proclaims the technology to eliminate accidents and deaths due to distracted driving is literally at our fingertips.

“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, this month. All it takes is the will to restrain ourselves from looking away from the road. We do this and nine fewer people will die every day,” said Smedley, editorial director, Connected World magazine, and president, Specialty Publishing Co.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), 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.

“To date, 42 states currently ban texting for all drivers, which addresses the issue, not the solution. We believe the conversation should be educational and steered towards solutions, not problems,” said Smedley. “Instead of saying ‘don’t text,’ let’s start saying ‘use voice commands,’ or ‘master your in-car technology.’ Most people can barely navigate around new smartphones, let alone comfortably use voice technology. If we collectively focused on taking advantage of what we already have in our hands, we could eliminate distracted driving this month.”

Smedley recommends the following actions that should be considered to address driver distraction:

• Increase education and understanding of driver distraction. This includes required classes, ad campaigns, and cooperative technology efforts.

• Use technology tools to better educate and improve driver behavior, like on-board diagnostics.

• Every state must ban all handheld use of cellphones for texting on electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle. Only hands-free use should be allowed.

• Every state must ban all handheld cellphones while driving except for emergency use.

• Create and enforce policies that limit distractions in the dashboard, focus motorists on driving safely.

• Create a governing body (comprised of independent individuals) to evaluate acceptable in-vehicle apps offered by OEMs, carriers, and developers to be incorporated in any and all vehicles.

• Hands-free usage should be demonstrable during licensure testing, just like a vision or driving test.

“Efforts like the recently enacted Illinois ban on use of handheld devices while driving and New York’s five points on a driver’s license for each violation is comparable to putting a Band-Aid on a grenade wound. We have conditioned ourselves to using cellphones anytime, anyplace. Instead of gradually trying to change it, let’s use technology to help educate and change our behavior once and for all,” said Smedley.

NHTSA recently announced its “5 to Drive” campaign aimed at teaching teens good driving skills. Smedley likes this thinking, but believes it needs to be amplified: “Let’s add to this program with an educational component for teens and adults. Then we’ll really be moving the needle.”

Publication date: 4/21/2014

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