By Dave Stancliff/For The Times Standard
Vindicated at least! I’d be doing cartwheels if I could right now. After years of warning people that using hands-free devices to talk, text and email is dangerous while driving, a comprehensive study has come out supporting my concerns.
The University of Utah released its findings on the use of hands-free devices while driving to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety on June 12th.The report says hands-free devices are not risk-free, and can impair the driver’s ability to react swiftly and safely.
The study shared by the non-profit organization bluntly states that people who use hands-free devices are a hazard on the road. Anyone who drives knows that, but so far nothing has been done about it (except for ridiculously low fines). What was meant to be a safe technology has turned into a potential traffic hazard.
Speech-based technology is a wonderful thing, but the dangers of distracted driving are real. This is the most comprehensive study yet on the subject. It clearly sends out warning signals to the general public.
In 2006, I wrote a column for the Eureka Reporter about hands-free phones in vehicles being dangerous, citing the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s findings at the time. Unfortunately, the message didn’t connect with enough people. Many who heard or read about that study simply ignored it.
I’ve had countless conversations with people who use hands-free devices. Nearly every person I’ve talked with believes they’re safe while using them.
Here comes the really bad news; the AAA predicts a five-fold increase in infotainment systems in new cars by 2018.
“There is a looming public safety crisis ahead with the future proliferation of these in-vehicle technologies,” said AAA President and CEO Robert L. Darbelnet, in the report’s summary.
The researchers warned that the increase of cognitive distractions leads to funnel-vision, or inattention blindness where motorists can’t see potential hazards right in front of them.
The thing that concerns me most is the technology is so popular. People will ignore these new warnings just like they did in 2006, and distracted-driver accidents will increase. In 2011 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted-drivers, according to the U.S .Government Website for Distracted Driving.
The report also states that 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted-driver in 2011. Get the facts and visit this website, or the go to the Center for Disease Control’s website to see their statistics.
Everything points to distracted-driving becoming a major problem in the years ahead. These drivers think they’re exceptional and nothing distracts them, but they’re fooling themselves. Multi-tasking in the car is quite different from sitting in an office.
I’m not sure what can stop this dangerous trend. Perhaps limiting the device’s functions while the vehicle is in operation. Hopefully, someone smarter than me will discover a way to address this problem before it ranks alongside drunk driving.
Maybe we need Mothers Against Drunk-Driving (MADD) to start another chapter, “Mother’s Against Distracted-Driving.” That would put some pressure on the makers of these devices. They’d have to come up with safety compromises if they didn’t want them outright banned.
It still amazes me when people I know use these devices despite incidents that should have been wake-up calls. They’re defying the odds. It’s not like we don’t have enough challenges these days, driving on packed freeways and poorly repaired inner city streets.My feeling of vindication only lasted long enough for me to write this column. It was a small dance of frustration because no one was listening.
This should be a conversation about using common sense, not a challenge to new technologies. Used in the right time and place, all these brilliant devices offer us conveniences we never thought were possible.
Instead,the deaths and injuries attributed to distracted-driving will increase unless people get serious about putting safety before convenience. Meanwhile, please don’t be one of those statistics!
As It Stands, if you choose to continue using hands-free technology while driving, just remember someone may pay with their life because of your stubbornness!