By Kristin Varela on April 24, 2014
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. This topic is particularly meaningful to my family this year, as someone close to us was involved in a distracted driving tragedy just weeks ago. While it always seems like something that happens to other people, nobody on the planet is immune. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2011 more than 3,300 people were killed and 387,000 injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. Even scarier: During any daylight moment, about 660,000 U.S. drivers use cellphones or manipulate electronic devices while driving, according to the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey.
So it comes down to this: You can either be the perpetrator of distracted driving, being tempted to take a quick peek at that text that just came in, or you can be on the dangerous or even deadly receiving end of someone else's distracted driving.
Every state in the U.S. participated in last year's Governors Highway Safety Administration's "2013 Distracted Driving: Survey of the States." One crystal-clear take-away from the survey is that no one has hit on a solution with which all parties agree.
And although the U.S. has increased its distracted-driving awareness and education campaigns, the terrifying reality is that we're nowhere near close to solving this often-deadly problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Americans continue to use electronic devices while driving, despite warnings that it causes their own driving to deteriorate and can lead to crashes, injuries and even death."
If you think state-mandated use of only hands-free phones in the car is the solution, you're wrong. While you may think that taking a call from your boss through your phone's Bluetooth system is not only benign, but also actually responsible (if he/she calls, you answer, right?), think again. Recent studies show that "safe" hands-free calls while driving is just one big fat myth. Others think head-up displays inside the car are the answer; however, several of our staff members find these even more distracting.
Many of us blame the distracted driving epidemic on not only the technology we bring into our vehicles but also on the tech built into today's cars. Have you ever tried navigating through a complex in-car infotainment system menu while going 75 mph on the highway?
Since there are so many different mobile devices to consider, maybe the solution is in the hands of car manufacturers after all. Could the solution come from mandating that all vehicles be equipped with a system that blocks phone calls and texts while moving, regardless of which type of mobile devices are in the car? Technology isn't the only cause of distracted driving in the car. A 2011 study found that kids cause 12 percent of driving distractions. And old-school distractions like eating, shaving, applying makeup and even reading a newspaper while driving still are commonplace today.
Companies like Toyota and Microsoft are thinking outside the box to fight the problem of technology with even more innovative technology. They developed a concept Driver Awareness Research Vehicle, which aims to take everything that distracts you inside the car (even your kids), and address them before entering the car, even engaging your kids with a game of how quickly they can buckle up.
What should you do if (or should I say when) you see a distracted driver on the road? Slow down and let them pass you, giving them a wide berth. Your goal, after all is to keep you and your family safe. And if you're someone who is constantly tempted by your phone, maybe take my husband's approach and simply keep your phone tucked away inside your briefcase in your car's trunk. Would you rather respond to a text while driving or return home alive to your family?
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Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars. Email Kristin