Last December, Tennessee school bus driver James Davenport engaged in multiple conversations on his cell phone while he was responsible for getting several small children home. His bus reportedly veered off course and over a highway median. Then, it slammed into a second school bus and claimed the lives of a 7-year-old, 6-year-old and a 46-year-old teacher's aide.
Investigations into the accident concluded just last week, highlighting the dreadful toll that distracted driving can take. But while technology can prove lethal when used behind the wheel, there are a number of ways gadgets and apps can actually cut down on risky behavior.
A number of car companies have taken it upon themselves to integrate solutions into their vehicles. But for consumers who aren't in the market for a new car, there are more accessible options.
Laura Hubbard, the senior manager of communications at the Consumer Electronics Association, told The Huffington Post that people don't necessarily have to buy new cars to take advantage of high-tech safety features. "The average car is 11 years old -- that's before the iPhone came out."
Her organization -- which offers market research and other information on 2,000 technology companies -- has a section dedicated to innovative safety products that aim to cut down on distracted driving.
For example, there's Car Connection from Audiovox. It's primarily a tool that helps parents track where their kids are driving and gives them alerts if the car moves out of a designated area -- but it also has the ability to prevent phones from sending and receiving text messages on the road.
"When a call or text is received while driving, the sender will receive a text notification that the driver is driving and will call them back," the company's website states.
That's great if you're worried about your kids, but it could also be a way to make yourself a more disciplined driver.
There are also apps like AT&T DriveMode, which silences alerts and intercepts text messages when you're moving at more than 15 mph.
Hubbard notes that there are also simpler options. You could outfit your car with a mount to keep your smartphone at eye level, and then use the handset's voice-activated features. Siri on iPhones, for example, can automatically read your text messages aloud, and there are ways to do the same thing on Android phones. It may not be the perfect distraction-free solution, but it's better than taking your hand off the steering wheel and eyes from the road to type out a text.
There are interesting concepts in the pipeline, too. Your steering wheel could one day be smart enough to recognize distracted driving behaviors and tell you to pay attention. And soon, self-driving cars could help eliminate distracted driving altogether.
For now, though: Use your head and keep your hands off the phone, please.
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