When you think of distracted driving, texting, or talking on the phone are likely the first things to come to mind. But, according to the article “Distracted Driving”, author Bruce Law says that some of the less obvious factors may be eating while driving, talking to other people in the car, and even driving while you are tired. Distracted driving can be anything that causes you to focus on something else instead of giving your full attention to the road. So, if you’re checking your GPS route, digging for something out of your purse, or switching to a better radio station, yep…that’s driving distracted. By doing these tasks on the road, you are not only putting yourself in danger, but you are putting others in danger as well.
There are approximately 1.6 million car accidents every year that are due to distracted driving and roughly 330,000 injuries as well (Law). Not to mention the average 9 people that die each day because of it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. So many people believe that they can effectively multitask, but this is not necessarily true. You might think that you are paying equal attention to each task, but you are not. According to cognitive neuroscientist Earl Miller, “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly,” (Hamilton). So instead of supposedly having divided attention between a few different tasks, you are actually going between each task and giving your attention to each at different times. There are many other instances where people may think that they are multitasking when really, they are just switching between tasks. For instance, if you trying to write a paper and have a conversation with a friend at the same time, you are at one point focusing on writing, and then the next you are focused on the conversation. This pattern continues. The reason that our brain has these switches is that tasks will compete to use the same part of your brain, according to Miller (Hamilton). So, when Amanda Clark got into those accidents, her brain was focusing on her phone at the moment, rather than the road. The two tasks essentially interfere and conflict with one another, restricting the ability to focus on both simultaneously. This same idea pertains to driving while texting, eating, or doing anything else for that matter.
So, what is being done to combat this issue? Well, the majority of U.S. states and territories have implemented laws against texting and driving. Whether or not these laws have actually made a reduction in the amount of texting and driving-related accidents is not evident. It is clear that more needs to be done in order to reduce the amount of distracted driving incidents. There have been steps taken by road companies, though. Many highways and some rural roads across the U.S. have introduced rumble strips. A rumble strip is a section of grooved pavement that when in contact with a vehicle, will cause the car to vibrate and cause your tires to make a weird noise. This all happens if you begin to swerve out of your driving lane, and the rumble strip serves to divert your attention back to the road (Law). Studies and surveys by state transportation departments have shown that currently, rumble strips are the most effective form of crash prevention related to distracted driving. If you have ever driven on a highway and suddenly felt your car start shaking and making a loud noise, you likely hit a rumble strip and chances are, you were drifting into another lane without realizing it. If that ridged piece of pavement happened to not be there, though, you might not have realized that you were swerving quick enough to get back into your own lane. The effectiveness is evident. In fact, a 2019 study by the Federal Highway Administration says, “rumble strips have been shown to reduce crash injury by 38% to 50% on rural two-lane roads and 37% to 90% on urban two-lane roads,” (Law).
While rumble strips have proven to be effective, they could also be causing drivers to rely on them too much. Some people may have the mentality of “I can look at my phone really quick to change the song, and if I happen to start swerving, the rumble strip will warn me about it”. Having thoughts like these will not always work out in your favor. There will not always be rumble strips and there will not always be enough time to get back into your lane. So, you must take into consideration that rumble strips are not always going to save the day. Another infrastructural development is text stops. These are areas where drivers can pull over in order to make a call or check their notifications. Not all states have areas designated for this, though. And many of these text stops are just regular rest stops (Law). Most people are not going to want to add more time to their road trip just so they can pull over and make a call. Instead, many would just take the call while continuing to drive. While this may not be the safer option, it is the easier one. It’s evident that text stops are not the most effective way to stop drivers from using their mobile devices.
One of the most utilized times to stop and check your phone is at stop signs and stoplights. You may think that because you are stopped, that is the perfect opportunity to send that quick text back. But that big red octagon is a sign to stop and wait your turn, not a sign to whip out your phone. Let’s say you are at a four-way stop. At four-way stops, whoever arrives at their stop sign first has the right of way. Then whoever arrived second can go, and so on. If you are approaching a stop sign and decide it is a good time to take out your phone and check your notifications, you might lose track of who is getting to the stop sign and at what time because you are busy looking down at your phone. You look up and think it might finally be your turn to go, but you were wrong, and end up colliding with the truck to your left. Also, if approaching a stoplight or stop sign signals you that it is a great time to reach in your backseat and dig around for your box of tissues, one look back, and the next thing you know you have rear-ending the car in front of you. According to the Allstate blog article “5 Common Causes of Car Accident and How to Avoid Them”, rear-end accidents are the most common type of car accident, accounting for almost 30 percent of crashes. And, unsurprisingly, in 64 percent of those rear-end accidents, the driver was paying attention to something other than the road when the crash occurred (Campanella). Drivers have to make a much better effort to keep their phones away and give their undivided attention to both the road and their surroundings.
In addition to rumble strips, the text stops, and texting and driving bans, there are steps that need to be taken by drivers themselves in order to lessen the chance of a fatal car accident due to being distracted. One thing that drivers can do to help prevent picking up their phones while on the road is by downloading apps that discourage cell phone usage while driving. There are several different cell phone apps that are made to stop you from engagement with your device while traveling. Some may detect when you are driving and automatically block phone usage until you stop. Others may require you to log into the app when you are leaving for your destination. There are even apps that will reward you for safe driving. No matter how it may work, downloading one of these apps is a great first step for those who struggle with the temptation of using their phones while driving.
One of the most popular types of phone apps for this purpose is apps that will pay you to keep your phone down. The OnMyWay app does just that and has seen several downloads as well. The OnMyWay Co-Founder, Chloe Palmer, says, “We have a proprietary technology that recognizes 10-12 mph. And as long as you keep your phone locked, we will pay you for all of those miles,” (Nolte). By making sure to keep your cell phone down and unused for your car ride, you are earning reward points that you can later redeem with … For every safe mile, you earn five cents. If you tell a friend about that app and they follow through with downloading it, you get an extra two dollars. And if that friend you referred the app to is also driving safely, you earn two cents for each of their safe miles as well. The fact that you get paid even more for getting others to download the app shows that OnMyWay is dedicated to getting as many people as they can to use this app and begin safe driving habits.
Car manufacturers themselves are attempting to deter drivers from using their phones while behind the wheel. One way that they do this is by implementing smartphone functions into the cars. Some of these functions may include phone calls, speak-to-text features, and Bluetooth pairing for music. Having these features in your vehicle is becoming more and more popular, as car companies are increasingly incorporating these things into their newer models. While they can make taking a call or changing your playlist easier, smart cars can still be just as dangerous as using your actual cellular device. In the article “Is New Car Technology Leading to More Distracted Driving?”, author Scott Huntington says that although you may not be physically taking your eyes off of the road, interacting with the built-in car features is still very distracting and will slow your reaction times. According to Huntington, this is considered cognitive driver distraction, meaning that even though your hands are on the wheel and you are still looking ahead, your mind is focusing on something other than the road. Many people think that these cars with smart features are a solution to distracted driving because you are not actually moving around or looking at something else. But, a mental distraction, no matter if mixed with physical or visual distractions, is still a threat to your safety.