The Impact of Distracted Driving on our Roadways
Distracted driving is a serious issue on the roads today, and it is a leading cause of motor vehicle crashes. When a driver’s attention is diverted from the task of driving, even for a few seconds, it can have catastrophic consequences. Distracted driving can take many forms, including texting or using a phone, eating or drinking, adjusting the radio or GPS, or simply daydreaming. The problem is that these distractions can delay a driver’s reaction time to changing road conditions, staying in the appropriate lane or avoiding a collision.
When at least one distracted driver is involved in a crash, then police officers are instructed to report “distraction” as a contributing factor. A February 2023 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that distraction contributed to more than 10,500 fatalities, 1.3 million nonfatal injuries and 5.6 million non-injury crashes on our roadways in 2019. These crashes are estimated to have cost society $98.2 billion and represent nearly 30 percent of all motor vehicle crashes and total crash costs in our country.
The 3-Prong Approach to Reducing Crashes
Dating back nearly a century, traffic safety advocates have advocated for a three-prong approach to reducing crashes: enforcement, education and engineering. It is no different today when it comes to curbing distraction.
For example, the vast majority of states ban handheld cellphone use and texting while driving. Furthermore, these are primary enforcement laws – in other words, an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cellphone without any other traffic offense taking place. This is an example of the enforcement approach to reducing distraction.
We are all familiar with the educational campaigns for reducing distraction. For instance, the “It Can Wait” campaign that urges drivers to pledge not to text and drive, while also recruiting friends and family to take the pledge. Another slogan is more to the point: “Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks.” These educational programs draw attention to the cause-and-effect problem of distraction.
The Engineering Approach to Distraction
The third approach, engineering, is taking on a new life in this modern age. Occupant monitoring was the key technology highlighted as the recent InCabin Phoenix conference. Companies showcased their advanced artificial intelligent procedures called deep learning in combination with vision and sensor technology to efficiently monitor driver and occupant behavior. For example the company Synthesis AI boasted that their system when integrated into the vehicle can monitor driver bad behavior such as texting, falling asleep or not wearing a seat belt. In other words, one system designed to reduce distraction, could also be used to promote better behavior, such as wearing seat belts and driving sober.
With this new level of sophistication and artificial intelligence in our vehicles, the 3-prong approach of enforcement, education and engineering to reducing distraction are coming together with the stated goal of saving lives, reducing injury and decreasing the cost to society. In solving the distraction problem, as a society we have arrived at a juncture. What will come first: cars that drive themselves or cars that tell us how to drive?