Vehicles’ complex controls and texting cause drivers to get engaged and take their minds off the task at hand.
It happened in less than one second. I saw the car coming directly at me on my side of the road. I swerved onto the side flower bed, but still I was hit by this car coming in the opposite direction. He hit the driver side toward the end of my car, spinning my car around. Luckily, I was not injured. But only because I instinctively swerved. Of course, the car was a wreck.
The other driver never saw me, stopping only after hitting my car. He continued some 25m down the street. He also was not injured and came walking back to me apologising. He said that he was distracted. Distracted? I said… "you could have killed us!"
Now one week later, after reflecting on this accident and all the attendant inconveniences—like police report, insurance forms, collision repair shop interactions, as well as the non-use of my automobile—some pressing thoughts concern me.
First, I'm convinced the other driver was texting and totally involved in that activity, not in his driving—a very selfish thing to do when human life is at risk. I tried to get the insurance company to check on this, but they told me that they were not able to run a phone log. Unless I pursue this legally, his selfishness goes unpunished.
New cars are safer, but much more complex than their predecessors. When purchasing a new car, the dealer told me that it takes three hours to go through the vehicle with the buyer. Why? Mostly because the entertainment/navigation/media display/voice recognition/programmable functions are like teaching how to use a computer with several applications. And he said this is just the start.
Most customers come back several times in complete confusion. Imagine, if you will, this new car driver traveling down the highway in fits of frustration trying to use these programmable features.
Riding in an automobile is getting more dangerous by the day. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the fatalities on our highways are at their highest in eight years and climbing. In the first six months of 2016, deaths are up more than 10% to 17,775. This rate is up about 16% over 2014.
The impetus for self-driving cars, to combat the human errors that kill and injure this vast number of people, is summed up by one of the leading companies dedicated to this new market:
Earlier this month, Waymo said that self-driving cars have the potential to prevent some of the 1.2 million deaths that occur each year on roads worldwide, 94% of which are caused by human error.
If people were dying of some medical disease at this rate, it would be a national emergency. But frankly, we shrug it off, because most people believe it's largely preventable.
But it is a hidden crisis. There is much blame to go around. The car manufacturers, software designers, cellphone suppliers and the whole automobile ecosystem share responsibility for this devastating number of deaths. Today's new cars have a minimum of knobs, dials, etc. Everything is programmable. One knob serves several functions. This takes total brain involvement from the function of driving safely.
The NHTSA also reports that many young drivers under 35 feel that texting does not interfere with their driving. Of course the results on our highways say the opposite. These distractions from technology will not cease voluntarily.
So what can be done? Or what can you do?
It will take the combined efforts of many sectors including federal, state and local law enforcement to stop texting while driving. More than 46 states have made this unlawful.
Technology companies must do their part. We know that driverless cars are coming. But this revolution will take five to 15 years to gain an increasing foothold. Meanwhile, cellphone suppliers and the manufacturers can devise sensing methods to prevent texting behaviour while driving. It has not been a priority, but the increasing senseless deaths are the catalyst to make this a high priority.
Most of all we as individuals must make this "texting while driving" behaviour undesirable. It has been done in other areas of human activity such as reducing deaths due to driving while intoxicated, and in reducing smoking overall, especially in public areas. It must be painted as harmful to others and attach a stigma to such behaviour that is scorned by society. Use your social media profiles to express your opinion. Start or join a Facebook Group called No Texting while driving. Make people aware that they will be penalised and most of all, if someone is killed, go to jail.
The threat is increasing. The time is now. What are your thoughts?
First published by EE Times.