The Distracted Driving Epidemic: Who’s Taking Action?

Despite advancements in auto safety and traffic management, the rate of accidents is going up. Traffic deaths in the United States have been on the rise for the past two years, and there’s little indication that the trend will reverse itself anytime soon. There are several potential explanations for this, including increased rates of driving (due to low fuel costs and vehicle accessibility), but one of the most prominent is the rise in distracted driving.

Fortunately, companies and lawmakers alike are stepping up to address this concerning trend.

The Distracted Driving Epidemic

Distracted driving can happen in response to any number of possible stimuli. Most people think of texting and driving as the go-to example, but there are documented cases of accidents resulting due to distractions from Christmas lights and other external visuals.

So why is distracted driving on the rise?

  • More gadgets. Gadgets are becoming smaller, more mobile, and more available than ever before. Most American adults own a smartphone and/or a tablet and take their devices with them when they drive. Even if they don’t intend to use those devices on the road, they may be tempted to glance at the screen when they get a new text message, or use a GPS navigation app to get them out of an unfamiliar area.
  • More driving. The overall fatality rate is increasing, in part, because there are more cars on the road. Auto loans are at an all-time high, meaning more people are driving a personal vehicle, and on top of that, low fuel costs are keeping people on the road. When all drivers are capable of getting distracted, more drive time equates with more distracted driving incidents.
  • Less accountability. The problem is compounded by the fact that many drivers aren’t willing to acknowledge the true danger of distracted driving. In one Everquote survey, 96 percent of survey respondents claimed to be a safe driver-yet a whopping 56 percent of participants admitted to using their smartphone while driving. Most drivers won’t admit that their distracted driving habits are unsafe and aren’t willing to change them.

The Response

Drivers can’t be relied on to change their habits, so who can be responsible for improving the distracted driving epidemic? Fortunately, lawmakers and companies alike are coming up with new solutions to this problem:

  • New laws. Many states and local districts are responding to the epidemic by passing stricter laws meant to reduce distracted driving. Washington state, for example, recently passed a law that bans holding a phone while driving, for any purpose. Hands-free devices are still permitted to allow drivers to make phone calls or take other actions that don’t require their hands. Currently, 14 states have rules that ban or strictly limit the use of handheld devices while driving.
  • Device lockouts. Some companies are also attempting to intervene. Apple, for example, released a “do not disturb while driving” feature with iOS 11. When the feature is turned on, a phone will automatically detect when it reaches a certain speed threshold and will temporarily block all notifications. It can even send a notification text to contacts to let them know the recipient is driving and will respond shortly. Other apps, like Pokemon Go, stop functioning at certain high speeds to prevent use while driving.
  • New modes of transportation. Though the effects are indirect, new modes of transportation have the potential to eliminate distracted driving almost entirely. Waymo and other leaders in autonomous vehicle technology already have fleets of entirely self-driving vehicles roaming the streets in test mode. When these vehicles become consumer ready, it could eliminate the need for attentive human drivers, and therefore cut distracted driving rates drastically.

The Future

There’s significant room for improvement on all fronts. More states can step up with stricter regulations for the use of handheld devices while driving, and tech companies can take responsibility for making their hardware and apps less easy to use while driving. Eventually, technology may progress to the point where it allows us to bypass the dangers of distracted driving altogether, but for now, it’s negatively impacting accident and fatality rates across the country.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.