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Distracted Driving: Is Tech Helping or Hurting?

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dashboardWhile distracted driving remains a major safety issue across the nation, auto makers are adding more and more interactivity to the dashboard. And while this technology is often meant to make driving easier, and even safer, some would argue it all just adds to the risk of distraction behind the wheel.

Paul Eisenstein, a reporter for MSNBC’s Today, brings us a critical perspective:

A 2006 review of more than 100 experimental studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found plenty of reason for concern. Former law officer Jack Peet, now AAA Michigan’s Group Traffic Safety Manager, is among the skeptics.

‘People often tell me they’re multi-taskers, but driving itself is multi-tasking,’ he warned, adding that this is another way to take your attention off your driving.

Peet even questions many of the new technologies designed to improve safety. Active Cruise Control — which uses laser or radar to keep your car running at the same speed as the traffic ahead — encourages motorists to take their eyes off the road, Peet argued. And blind-spot detection systems — which look for traffic you might miss changing lanes — makes drivers lazy, he added.

Jonathon Maus, publisher and editor of Bike Portland, is also aware of this trend and seems to share similar concerns. In a recent opinion piece, he comments on U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s role in all this, specifically as it relates to the telecom industry:

Seems to me LaHood’s efforts and trends in the auto industry are heading in directly opposite directions. As America’s traffic safety watchdog, LaHood is in a great position to use his commitment to road safety as leverage on both telecoms and the auto industry.

President Obama is currently contemplating a mega-merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. While I’d rather not see that merger happen at all, perhaps LaHood can use the potential deal as an opportunity for leverage; as in, if they merge, the companies must agree to major funding of distracted driving prevention efforts. On a similar note, perhaps LaHood and Obama could use their bailout of the auto industry as leverage to reign in the cars-as-rolling-smartphones trend.

The issues are complex. We live in an increasingly wired and automated age, encouraging people to split their attention and multitask throughout daily life. Regardless of how you feel about automotive Wi-Fi, for example, it is generally accepted that distracted driving is responsible for far too many car accidents and injuries.

Secretary LaHood and the Department of Transportation are shining a spotlight on distracted driving with a video campaign called “Faces of Distracted Driving.”

Image by daveiam, used under its Creative Commons license.

 

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