Distracted driving has clearly become a nationwide epidemic on our roads and highways, and with the winter and holidays upon us, practicing safe driving techniques becomes increasingly important. The winter months bring a number of hazards, including subpar weather conditions and delayed commutes. Let's not forget, of course, that the holiday travel season is also here, putting millions of travelers on the road in the coming weeks and months.
Pointing the finger of blame towards drivers, cell phone carriers or mobile app developers is just not constructive. The fact of the matter is that cars are increasingly connected and the technologies that enable this connectivity aren't going away.
How do we address this tremendous challenge? It is not going to be easy. In fact, it will require a unified effort where drivers, dealers, auto manufacturers, auto aftermarket providers, technology providers, OEMs and law enforcement come together in the spirit of community to increase awareness around the dangers of distracted driving behavior.
It can be done and the cause has been advanced tremendously over the past two years alone, with many organizations -- for-profit and not-for-profit -- focusing on educating those most open to learning: student drivers. In fact, at the 2013 Massachusetts Teen Distracted Driving Leadership Summit in Boston over the summer, LoJack surveyed more than 150 students with results revealing that 46 percent of respondents believe distracted driving is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Additionally, 91 percent of students surveyed support initiatives to ban cell phone use during driving and 89 percent support the development and use of technology to help curb distracted driving.
These survey results support findings from AAA that reveals 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving, at any given moment during the day. Meanwhile, approximately 50 percent of teenagers surveyed by LoJack use their cell phone while driving, both to talk and text. These are particularly poignant statistics considering the following:
- An estimated 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, which represents a nine percent increase from the estimated 387,000 people injured in 2011.
- According to the NHTSA, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's equivalent to driving the length of an entire football field.
- Drivers who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash, or near-crash event.
And safe driving concerns don't just apply to families -- businesses also need to address the issue to curb these dangerous behaviors and ensure their drivers are safe on the roadways.
So how do we bridge the great divide between awareness and action? How do we assist law enforcement in carrying through with these important laws and regulations that protect our families and employees?
While automotive manufacturers continue to iron out the details, the connected car offers a solution that can help eliminate human error -- and tangible distractions drivers encounter on any given day -- to create safer roads for us all. As we move towards a world where the autonomous car is a reality, there are many technologies being developed along the way that will assist drivers in making smarter decisions while behind the wheel. From technologies that assist drivers in avoiding traffic to those that alert us to prevent collisions, the connections increase day by day.
Here are a few common sense tips to help make safe driving a reality in today's world:
- Put your phone on silent to avoid temptation from incoming calls and messages. If you need to make a call, pull over to a safe area first. Also consider downloading a smartphone application like SafelyGo, which automatically answers calls and texts so drivers can keep their eyes on the road.
- Make sure you are well-rested before any road trip. If driving for long hours is unavoidable, take turns behind the wheel or take breaks to fuel up on food and water.
- Prepare for the road ahead -- eat, review maps, program favorite radio stations -- before any road trips.
- Obey posted speed limits and always maintain a safe distance from other vehicles on the road.
- Discuss safe driving habits with children in advance of them reaching the driving age, and never forget you lead by example, so practice those safe driving habits that you preach.
While our world and vehicles become more connected and sophisticated each day, it's important to take smaller steps towards making our roads safe. And soon enough, new technologies will be here to make us even safer. It's not enough to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving anymore -- it's time to take action. LoJack and its law enforcement partners are looking to be part of the solution, and we hope you'll join us.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.
And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.