Automobile safety usually increases as technology advances. Many recent improvements in automobile safety are intended to improve the driver’s habits. These features include the proliferation of hands free devices, which allow motorists to keep both hands on the vehicle’s controls at all times.
With Americans sending over 171 billion text messages every month, these features have become increasingly important in preventing collisions. Hands free devices provide valuable benefits to motorists and pedestrians alike, but such systems have limitations.
Relationship Between Phone Usage And Motor Vehicle Collisions
The frequency of collisions caused by distracted motorists varies depending upon the source. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted motorists caused approximately 10 percent of injury-related accidents nationwide; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a figure of 18 percent in 2010.
Other sources, including other NHTSA reports, conclude that approximately 80 percent of collisions involve some type of driver distraction within three seconds prior to the collision. Determining whether an accident was due to distraction can be difficult as many accidents go unreported and many drivers refuse to admit to being distracted, but it is substantial.
Cameras placed strategically at intersections of large cities are able to capture auto accident video and testimonials from accident victims that support the claim that driver distraction is a primary cause of accidents.
The only related fact that government agencies universally agree upon is that the number of distraction-related fatalities is rising. In 2010, 3,267 people were killed in distraction-related collisions. This number rose to 3,331 people in 2011.
Most of the increases in recent years may be attributed to texting while driving. Other distraction factors such as radio usage and eating have been around for far longer than mobile phone texting.
Over a third of motorists admit to sending a text message while driving, with even greater usage by youths and young adults. As a result, distracted driving deaths are likely to continue rising.
Aftermarket Hands Free Technology
Aftermarket hands free hardware for mobile phones typically comes in the form of mobile phone docking stations. These stations allow users to mount their phones in a fixed location, allowing the phone to be in a convenient location without requiring the driver to hold it.
Phones equipped with GPS functionality can be mounted on the windshield, reducing the need to look away from the roadway. Beyond that, many docking stations will offer standalone speakers and limited integration with the vehicle’s systems.
Users with Androids and iPhones have additional hands-free options without worrying about vehicular compatibility. Such phones are available with a variety of applications aimed at drivers.
For optimal results, users can purchase apps that automatically send responses to the effect that the recipient is driving, thus avoiding the distracting communication altogether. Alternatively, users may purchase apps that convert text messages to voice messages, transcribe speech to text messages, and send responses.
These applications are not a license to continue texting while driving. While the latter form of applications can help those who cannot be away from their phones for the duration of the drive, the systems are far from perfect.
Speech detection and transcription apps often make errors and users who require high levels of accuracy will have to proofread the app’s message anyway.
Drivers must still avert their eyes, read text, and determine whether the response was correct, thus posing the same combination of visual and cognitive distractions that texting while driving normally presents.
Integrated Hands Free Technology
Modern vehicles typically come with features to integrate Androids and iPhones into the car’s systems. These systems go by many names: Ford has its SYNCTM system, Honda has its HondaLinkTM system, and Toyota calls its system the EntuneTM, to name just a few of the available systems.
The interfaces and apps vary, but all provide similar features. Users who link their phones to their vehicles can wirelessly access Internet radio, navigation features, emergency contacts, and mobile communications via their car’s interface.
Drivers can manipulate these systems with voice commands, allowing them to change radio stations, access weather and traffic reports, or make calls without taking their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.
These systems resolve the issue of having to look at the phone while driving while simultaneously improving the driver’s access to news updates and online radio stations. However, the problems associated with talking on the phone or sending text messages while driving persist.
Drivers still experience the cognitive distraction of talking to another party who is not present in the vehicle; the central difference with an integrated hands free system is that drivers need not hold a phone or wear a Bluetooth headset, which presents less of a threat than the attention deficit issue.
Unfortunately, hands free technology will never make automobile accidents obsolete. According to a 2012 white paper from the National Safety Council, motorists who use hands free devices experience longer braking times, delayed reactions to changes in traffic, and were more likely to have a sideswipe collision than motorists who did not talk on the phone. This type of cognitive distraction cannot be overcome by new technology; it can only be overcome by not making telephone calls.
According to a recent AAA study, 83 percent of motorists categorize mobile phone use while driving as a serious or very serious problem, but more than half of the survey’s respondents admitted talking on the phone while driving within the past month.
Hands free technology still provides a certain benefit. Integrated systems in newer vehicles automatically detect the user’s phone, eliminating the need to fiddle with additional hardware to use mobile phone functions.
Such systems typically offer larger and more visible screens than the average mobile phone, which are further placed closer to the motorist’s line of sight than a conventional phone.
They are most effectively used in conjunction with responsible users who practice responsible driving habits and keep telecommunications behind the wheel to a minimum.
Valerie Stout Cyrus is a freelance writer who frequently researches accident claims. She discovered that Steinger, Iscoe & Greene are fighting hard to defend personal injury, and that their auto accident video explains how the law firm assists personal injury victims.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/drivingthenortheast/5468305443/