• Oct 13th 2010 at 12:00AM
  • 36
Man texting while driving. mrJasonWeaver@flikr©... Man texting while driving. mrJasonWeaver@flikr©

Distracted driving remains a huge problem in America, despite various cell phone laws banning texting and talking while driving. In fact, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened a national summit on the issue in late September, the second such event in as many years. But thus far, it remains a problem without a consistent, reliable solution, according to two recent reports.

Indeed, a report issued on Sept. 28 by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) found that that laws banning texting while driving did not result in fewer car crashes. HLDI is part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Further, the HLDI reported that, after the bans went into effect, there was actually a slight increase in the frequency of insurance claims filed under collision coverage for damage to vehicles in crashes. The finding was based on the number of such claims filed in four states (California, Minnesota, Washington and Louisiana) before and after their texting bans -- compared with patterns of claims in nearby states.

Similar findings were recently reported in a study conducted by the AAA of Southern California.

Legislation Ineffective

The fact that crashes actually increased slightly after texting bans went into effect prompted Adrian Lund, president of IIHS, to observe that “there is no way to know if the primary cause of distracted driving is texting and talking on cell phones. So, if the bans are not reducing crashes, then we probably shouldn’t just be focusing on texting and cell phones, because the problem seems to be bigger than that.

“We had distracted driving before there were cell phones,” notes Lund, pointing to long-standing careless and even reckless driving habits like shaving, eating, applying eye make-up and fiddling with stereos while driving.

Lund also theorizes that, in some cases, the texting ban may have actually led to an increase in crashes. “If a ban is in place and a driver is texting and sees a police car, he may drop the phone into his lap to hide it, which takes his eyes off the road even more than if he was holding it up and texting,” says Lund.

Enforcement of the ban also probably has not been vigorous or visible enough, says Lund, but he doesn’t blame the police for that. “In California, thousands of tickets have been written to drivers for using hand-held cell phones while driving, but there have been far fewer tickets handed out for texting, because it is harder to detect.”

Plus, devoting manpower to specifically enforcing the texting-while-driving ban is an expensive proposition for law enforcement agencies right now, considering that so many cities, counties and states have slashed budgets as a result of the recession.

Stepping Up Enforcement

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has initiated two “demonstration programs,” in Hartford, Connecticut, and Syracuse, New York, to test whether or not “high visibility enforcement” could reduce texting and the use of hand-held cell phones while driving. Under the program, the cities are specifically dedicating officers to enforcing the bans, and also conducting media campaigns to publicize that ramped-up enforcement.

The program is being conducted in four “waves,” the first two of which were between March and August. The third wave is happening now. The fourth wave will be conducted in early 2011. During the first two waves, the use of hand-held cell-phone use while driving dropped 56 percent in Hartford and 38 percent in Syracuse, while texting while driving dropped 68 percent in Harvard and 42 percent in Syracuse, according to a NHTSA report.

“The programs were very successful,” noted Lund. “Of course, that costs money, so the question is, ‘How do we get all of the cities to implement that level of enforcement with so many municipalities being strapped for cash?’”

In the meantime, Lund points to the increased development of onboard technologies that he hopes will cut down on the number of crashes that result from distracted driving – “like the crash-avoidance systems, lane-departure warnings and blind-spot warning systems that are becoming more and more commonplace in current vehicles.”

There are also carmakers who have built hands-free cell-phone applications into their vehicles, like the Sync system in various Ford vehicles.

More Technology

ZoomSafer, a Virginia-based provider of smart-phone software has developed another technological solution to clamp down on texting. Its software can be used to lock down the keypads and screens of smart pones, and suppress all “alerts” emitting from the phones, eliminating the temptation to text or send e-mails while driving. It also responds to incoming messages with an outgoing message that tells callers that the recipient is driving, and will call them back when no longer behind the wheel.

“This behavior -- texting while driving -- definitely appears to be betting worse, but it’s hard right now for anyone to get their arms around how much it contributes to distracted driving, and, in turn, to crashes and injuries and fatalities,” says Matt Howard, ZoomSafer CEO, who was on one of the panels at the aforementioned September summit.

“But, the way I see it, people are only motivated to change their behavior through fear, or greed,” stresses Howard.

Howard got the idea for the software and started his company in 2008, after he nearly killed a nine-year-old boy when he was distracted by an e-mail on his mobile phone.

“If you’re not afraid of paying the ticket, or the points on your driving record, which leads to higher insurance premiums, you’re not likely to be deterred from engaging in this careless driving behavior. If you don’t have the economic incentive, the motivation to change is low.

Playing To The Lawyers

At present, ZoomSafer’s primary markets are companies who provide their employees with company-issued cell phones and company cars.

“In that situation, if you’re behind the wheel, and you get into an accident and injure someone while texting, the plaintiff’s attorney will sue your company,” says Howard. “So if individuals do not currently feel motivated by texting bans and enforcement, and are not fearful of paying a fine, well, companies are definitely motivated to reduce their legal liability.

Howard says the texting-while-driving problem is especially vexing because it reveals “this perverted need that so many people have to stay hyper-connected, a need that seems to be stronger than the knowledge that and texting while driving could end up costing them their lives.

“They know it’s distracting, they know it’s dangerous, but it’s really just a new spin on that old attitude, the one where people tell themselves, ‘It can’t happen to me.’”

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    • 1 Second Ago
      Alfred Bundy
      • 7 Months Ago
      A society that needs to be told not to use a cell phone while driving. We are truly the most moronic collection of humans ever assembled on this Earth. Sayiong gay is normal, slaughtering 3000 babies a day, electing obama, the liberals have really f'd us up! NOW ABOUT A LAW TELLING US NOT TO SLEEP WHILE DRIVING! THE MORONS OUT THERE NEED TO BE TOLD THAT APPARENTLY! PUT THE PHONES DOWN A-HOLE D-BAGS FHUKS!!!!!!!!!!
      • 7 Months Ago
      why do so may people think its ok to use thier cell in the car if they have it on speaker phone .It's still in your hand and you'er still ************ your driving.Please wait tel you stop to call your loved one so we both make it home.
      • 7 Months Ago
      First of all for all of those saying to make a law or a device that blocks phones from working in cars while the car is in motion. That will NEVER happen. What about the passenger who is sitting there talking while the driver is driving ? What law is he breaking ? NONE !! What about passengers in the back seat who may be talking on the phone ? Again NO laws being broken. Not to mention any one of these people could be a specialist doctor on the way to a hospital trying to save your mom or dad or family member from dying talking to a nurse or another doctor while on the way there. See the point. The law has to be fair and work for everyone. Cell phone companies will NEVER stop towers from working as thats interrupting service. Forget about the thousands of dollars they would lose each year replacing that cost back to the cellphone owner. The lawsuits alone would kill that program. Then theres the cops and lawyers and political candidates who use cell phones while driving. You cant punish everyone for those who break the law. One reasonable law should be as it was mentioned above. In order to deter those who get caught while texting or driving you remove their driving priviledges (suspend) for a month AND you confiscate their cell phone away as well. Thats a first offense. A 2nd offense is suspend their license for 6 months with a $1000 fine. This will definitely stop them from doing it again. If they are not smart to stop by then a 3rd offense can be to take away their license permanently and also their right to get a cell phone in their name with ANY cell phone company on the market. The laws will be broken yes. But after the first slap on the wrist would you risk it again ? The harsher the penalty the more the one breaking the law will think twice about breaking it. But to be fair these laws have to be held for everyone. Not just regular citizens who drive everyday. But for ALL including lawyers, cops, judges, political appointees and such. Only those with a valid (doctor saving a life only emergency) should get a pass.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Texting or talking on the phone while driving bans will never work to prevent or stop it. People cannot figure out the common sense side of that equation to not do it! The light doesn't shine bright enough fro that to happen! However, if the driver is involved in a crash, the phone carrier can definitely tell the police if the phone was in use at the time of the crash. So at least the other party can sue them for everything they can get out of them if there is at least a law against it!
      • 7 Months Ago
      These law makers need to learn laws means nothing. Just like restraining orders are usles pieces of paper. Only way to stop texting when driving is to design cell phones NOT to be able to text or display a text when the car or cell phone is moving. A very easy was to stop the texting while driving problem. ******* a great idea law makers are trying to solve this problem
      • 7 Months Ago
      I'm in the auto business and I think all cars should have blue tooth in them... there are still models out there with out blue tooth... and those who say what about the passengers, well they can receive calls and make them while in the car.... but texting, Oh well I guess we have to make sacrifices to save lives.
      • 7 Months Ago
      If your cell phone GPS is detecting movement, forward speed in excess of 5 mph or so, then there could be programmable options for it not to work or go to voice mail.
      • 7 Months Ago
      • 7 Months Ago
      In think we need to mind our own business unless the person screws up.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Well, the only decent thing to do to actually make a "successful " no texting/no talking on cellphones while driving is..........it only makes more sense to "RAISE THE FINE TO A THOUSAND BUCKS!!!!! and that ought to get people paying freakin' attention!!!!! A "small" fine won't do any convincing at all,but a thousand dollars is the way to go!!! otherwise,if the person can't pay, throw them in jail until the fine IS paid but WARN them a 2nd time will be jail and nothing else, no excuses. Because people need to start paying attention and stop being so IGNORANT. but a 3rd time, permanent loss of driving privileges only makes much more sense!!!!! and also for the 2nd one, put them thru having to watch a film on what happens when one is on the phone/texting while driving, even if it's graphic in nature, that should scare some sense into these fools!!! Oh yes, in regards to a comment on here where a person says "STOP THE TECHNOLOGY".. thats the PERFECT SOLUTION!!!!! smart person !!! we really don't NEED cell phones anyway, it's just a waste of common sense and good dollars. I say "RETURN TO THE "LANDLINE" phones!!! i want mine back!!!!
      • 7 Months Ago
      The pity is that the law is a wonderful, but virtually uninforcible law. I see more people on the phone while driving than ever before. Now there's the additional danger of texting while driving. Perhaps fines aren't the answer. If a driver is caught using a phone (even hands free) or texting, their licences should be revoked. (Not that people don't drive without licenses.) There aren't enough police to enforce these laws properly. Sadly it will take many deaths to get something done about this terrible problem.
      • 7 Months Ago
      Shoot them all..
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