Dangers of Texting and Driving: A Personal Experience

VW Jetta, rear ended

The call every parent dreads begins like this:

“Your kids have been in an accident.”

There’s nothing scarier or more dreadful than hearing those words except for the unknown information that comes next.

Are they okay? Where are they? What happened? The questions flood your brain like rapid-fire bullets, and the answers can’t come fast enough. Guilt sets in because the number one function of a parent, protecting the kids, didn’t happen.

It’s an overwhelming feeling that’s only eased by the words, “They’re okay.”

I didn’t fully understand it until it happened to me.

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Distracted Driving: The New Normal?

Texting While Driving

How many times per day do you see people texting behind the wheel?

I’d venture to guess that every time you’re stopped at a light or stopped on the highway in heavy traffic, you’ll be able take a look at your fellow drivers and see at least one with his or her face buried in a phone.

It’s dangerous, and it shouldn’t happen, but we, as modern-day Americans, have outsourced our brains to our devices, and we can’t sever the connection. We text and drive, we e-mail and drive, we shop and drive, and we talk and drive. Many of us go about these activities while also eating or putting on makeup.

Driving has become the secondary or even tertiary activity while behind the wheel. Nobody can seem to stop it from happening.

So we must embrace it.

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Can New Technology End Distracted and Drowsy Driving?

driving while tired

How far should an automaker go to make sure the drivers of its cars stay safe by limiting the amount of distractions behind the wheel?

The latest news on battling distracted driving falls under the category of either creepy or cool, depending on your take on in-car technology. After my experience this weekend, though, I wouldn’t just call it cool, I’d call it potentially life-saving.

Lexus was one of the first to use technology to sound an alarm when it sensed a driver was not paying attention.

GM plans to step up the technology in a big way.

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Be Honest: Are You a Distracted Driver?

distracted driving

I’m guilty.

I’ve spent a lot of time on these pages preaching about distracted driving and the dangers therein. I think we all admit that it’s a huge problem, but very few of us willingly admit that we are guilty.

Today, I’m saying it: I’m guilty.

I had my moment of truth when I pulled up next to a truck at a stoplight. Inside was the familiar glow of a phone illuminating the drivers face. He was obviously texting. I shook my head at the complete disregard for safety and silently scolded him for looking at his phone while behind the wheel.

Then, without even thinking, I picked up my phone and checked for new emails.

It wasn’t until messages began downloading and the light turned green that I realized I was doing the exact same thing.

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Audi and VW Push Web-Enabled Cars

Audi Connect

Wisconsin introduced seat belt legislation in 1961. Not until 1984 did the U.S. mandate seat belt use. The same protracted battle is taking place with infotech in cars, and by most accounts, the safety guys are losing.

Audi has proudly announced it was the first luxury brand to offer Wi-Fi and Google Earth access in its cars. Nissan, GM and Ford have followed suit. Web-enabled cars are going to be a fact of life (and death), so get used to them.

The industry is loving it.

Vehicles are now viewed by automakers as entertainment and technology platforms; not transportation. The transportation part is now a given; THAT you get there is far less important than HOW you get there…

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The Solution to Distracted Driving: The Dash Robot

BYD's in-dash robot

Considering how many products the “Made in China” tag has been applied to in the United States, it’s amazing that cars have not been added to the list.

That won’t last, as rumors of a Chinese car company entering the U.S. market have circled for years. When it will actually happen remains unknown, but when it does, we could be in for a repeat of the Hyundai/Kia story that has unfolded over the last 25 years.

Would the first Chinese cars to arrive be as low-quality as the very first Hyundais were in 1986, or is it possible that the cars will impress with a quality no one expects?

Well, if the first Chinese car to come here has a talking robot that pops out of the dash, things could get interesting. Weird, but interesting.

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Useless, Redundant and Dangerous Car Tech *UPDATED

BMW's iPhone MOG app

*UPDATE: On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released voluntary anti-distraction guidelines for carmakers. These call for disabling all electronic devices that access the Web and social media or send text messages—any in-car technology that causes drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road for more than two seconds. That means no texting, tweeting, dialing or browsing unless the car is stopped and placed in Park.

The NTSB has called for a total ban on such devices, and other advocacy groups had skeptical comments, but this is a step forward, we think. Press release here.

Popular Mechanics did a recent piece on the “10 Most Useless Car Technologies.” I agree with most but not all of their choices, and they were being kind, given the proliferation of infotainment junk in cars. Give us some comment on a) what you think they omitted, and b) what they got wrong. I’ll add mine as we go.

  1. Paddle shifters for automatic transmissions. PM says they often don’t work well. I say, fix ’em and keep ’em. Automatics are good today, but we need the override.
  2. Interlocked seatbelts and starter. Not on cars anymore.
  3. Automatic moisture-sensing wipers. Right, they often don’t work correctly.
  4. Automatic steering headlights. No comment, never drove with them.
  5. Map lights. Wrong: Still useful.
  6. Motorized rear-view mirror. Right: Use your hands.
  7. Motorized seatbelts. Not in cars anymore.
  8. Proximity warning systems. Yes, confusing and distracting. Lane departure warning signals could be good.
  9. Electronic parking brake. Haven’t used.
  10. Chevrolet Volt capacitive touch controls. All touchscreens distract.

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Let’s Hear It for the Cellphone Ban!

Cell phones

Yesterday, the NTSB recommended banning all cellphone use in cars. The proximate cause of this was the horrific crash in Missouri that tgriffith referred to below. The probable cause of the crash was “distraction likely due to a text messaging conversation…” Further NTSB details are here; more examples of what influenced the NTSB are here.

We’ve written, probably to the point of your distraction, about driver distraction. My last piece advocated rigorous national standards for driver licensing and enforcement. But, as one of our commenters pointed out, the problem really is that driving is no longer seen as a privilege but has become a civil right, a “basic freedom.”

So we now have a situation in which people conceive that they have a right to do whatever they want in their vehicles, whether their actions endanger others or not. Well, they don’t.

Cellphone use has become endemic in America and around the world. There are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscribers—that is, 77 percent of the world’s population. So, we ask, why has the cellphone become so predominant and important? And how could a ban on its use in cars possibly work?

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Why All Mobile Phone Use Should Be Banned While Driving

Texting while driving accident

If there’s any lingering question as to why cell phones and driving should never be used in combination, the picture above should clear it up pretty quick.

Between the bus and the big rig is what’s left of a pickup, which was being driven by a 19-year-old kid. Just prior to slamming into the semi, the young driver had sent or received 11 text messages in as many minutes. Just after the collision, two school busses joined the chain reaction, killing a 15-year-old student. The texting driver also died. Two tragic losses that defy rationalization.

You’ve probably seen the images from last August’s crash and read the story already, but it’s a powerful reminder of the dangers phones create for everyone on the road. To prevent accidents like this and future deaths, should cell-phone use be banned outright for drivers across the United States? One government body thinks so.

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