Should Apple Be Working To Eliminate Distracted Driving?

The smartphones many of us carry today are an amazing achievement. A modern smartphone tends to be more powerful than, hold more data than, and have a faster link to the internet than most home computers did a decade ago. Our smartphones have so many sensors and detectors in them today they would make a Star Trek officer jealous. The current model of iPhone, for instance, comes standard with:

  • A front and rear camera that lets it see the world around it.
  • Several microphones that lets it hear and distinguish between close and distant sounds.
  • A GPS chip that lets it know exactly where it is.
  • A compass which tells it which direction it is pointed.
  • A gyroscope that tells it which way it is oriented.
  • An accelerometer that informs it about changes in its movement.
  • And a barometer accurate enough to detect when it moves from one floor to the next.

As a result of their amazing capabilities, our smartphones have become a large part of our daily lives, but their capabilities have also made them a dangerously tempting distraction to drivers.

A wide range of studies have shown that driving while using a phone can greatly increase the risk of an automobile accident. So why can’t our smartphones use all those sensors to lock-out distractions, such as text messages, when we are busy driving? As it turns out, they probably can, but phone manufactures have not yet done the work to add in safety features that could save thousands of lives each year.

Apple, for instance, was granted a patent titled “Driver handheld computing device lock-out” back in 2014. This patent proposed having an iPhone sense when a car was moving and have it lock down when it detected it was being held by a vehicle’s driver. It could do this by using its cameras to look for a steering wheel, among other things, the patent suggested.

Neither Apple’s iPhones nor the wide range of phones powered by Google’s Android have built in support to limit or lock out drivers. Instead both have been racing to add new features meant to be used while driving even though recent studies reveal that things like voice activated text messaging or phone dialing are very nearly as distracted as doing either by hand.

Given that an estimated 3,000 people die each year due to distracted driving, shouldn’t Apple’s iPhones and Google powered Android phones be focused on eliminating distracted driving rather than encouraging it?

Why Using A Cellphone While Driving Is So Dangerous

For decades we have listened to the radio and talked to our passengers while we drive, so why is it that distracted driving, and distractions caused by cellphones in particular, are getting so much more attention lately? It all comes down to how our brains work and how most cellphone use by the driver of a vehicle triggers a sort of worst case scenario.
Most people assume that they can multitask while driving, but according to multiple in-depth studies, we do not multitask well at all. When we ask our brains to split their attention between driving and using a cellphone, driving almost always loses. The results speak for themselves:

  • Trying to maintain a phone conversation with someone, even while using a car’s hands free option, has been shown to negatively affect a driver’s reaction time by 35%.
  • Cellphone use while driving can also lead to a condition called “inattention blindness” where drivers might see but not recognize up to 50% of the objects on the road and sidewalks in front of them.
  • Additionally, studies show it can take up to half a minute before a driver is fully concentrating on the road again after they finish a phone call.

It turns out answering a text message causes even bigger problems! In addition to the above issues, responding to a text message usually requires a driver to take their eyes off the road and at least one hand off their steering wheel. So, not only are they dealing with a slowed reaction time and inattention blindness, they might not even be looking at the road.
A recent study showed that, on average, each text message a driver responds to causes a five second gap where they are not able to pay attention the road at all! To put that in perspective, responding to a text message at normal highway speeds is like putting on a blindfold and driving the length of a football field before taking it off again.
Once again, the best way to avoid being distracted while driving is to put away your cellphone. Doing so could prevents thousands of accidents and save over a thousand lives each year.
You can find more information on the effects and risks of Distracted Driving at this list of resources compiled by SR22 Insurance.

The Serious Problem of Distracted Driving

For many years now, concerned safety groups and government agencies have been waging a war on drunk driving. In recent years, that war has been expanding to focus attention on the injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers.

Distracted driving, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines as, “any activity that could divert a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving,” is becoming more prevalent each year. In 2002, distracted driving was the likely cause of some 2,600 deaths. In 2011, it was estimated that more than 3,300 lost their lives due to distracted drivers.

Not surprisingly, cellphone use and texting while driving are widely agreed to be the most dangerous causes of distracted driving related incidents. While some common in-car activities, like listening to music at a reasonable volume, have been shown to be safe, studies have shown that cellphone use can lead to multiple worrying driving issues such as a greatly slowed reaction times and inattention blindness.

As our cellphones become even more ingrained parts of our lives, it seems likely that injuries and deaths due to distracted driving are only going to increase. Do yourself and your fellow drivers a favor and banish driving distractions from your vehicle. Even something as simple as waiting to respond to a text message can save lives.