In recent years, there have been approximately 185 annual fatalities in Maryland attributed to distracted driving and another 27,000 injuries. The Maryland Department of Transportation says mobile device usage and texting are the leading examples of distracted driving and the state prohibits using handheld device while driving. This law prohibits typing, sending and receiving text messages. Distracted driving has proven to be a large risk for drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. This inattention to driving places other motorists in situations where they are suddenly forced to react abruptly to actions caused by driver inattention.
A recent AAA study indicated auto manufacturers are integrating enhanced “infotainment” technology into their new automobiles that increasingly shift the eyes of drivers off of the roadway and their hands off of the steering wheel. The Foundation for Traffic Safety with AAA has analyzed these dangers for several years and says on-board systems now integrate with email, text messaging and social media and can be complex.
Some newer vehicles now have dozens of buttons on the steering wheel and dash which also utilize touch screens and displays on the windshield and mirrors. Many manufacturers say that these systems are designed as a safer alternative to mobile devices and GPS units that were not intended for use while driving.
Wade Newton, of the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, explains these systems are better suited for driver usage and require less attention. Newton says they should be considered similar to audio tuning and climate control that has long been acceptable behavior when driving.
Jake Nelson, the Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy at AAA, did not entirely agree and says that research of usage in 2017 model vehicles showed that 23 out of 30 vehicles were rated as either “high” or “very high” based on the amount of driver attention required. The most distracting function was entering a destination into GPS navigational systems, which could take 40 seconds to complete. When traveling at 25 mph, a vehicle can cover the distance equivalent to four football fields. Studies showed that when a driver takes their eyes off of the road for two seconds, it essentially doubles their chances of a collision.
In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted safety recommendations to manufacturers for these types of technology. One key recommendation was that navigation systems should not be programmable while the vehicle is in motion, yet few systems have followed this advice. Roughly 75% of the tested vehicles allowed drivers to compose text messages while driving, which ranked as the second most distracting driver activity.
Systems operated by voice-command largely allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road; however, this benefit is somewhat negated by the overall amount of distraction caused by driver interaction. A survey by AAA revealed that 70% of drivers want these types of technology in their vehicles, which indicates consumer demand is strong. The problem is whether this demand for increased on-board technology is truly hazardous for overall roadway safety.