Should companies stop us from texting and driving?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: January 26, 2013

There are days that I get a lot of different notifications on my phone. Most of them are indicators that someone is trying to get in touch with me, whether that’s through instant messaging clients, social networking tools, or just a plain ol’ text message, the ways to get in touch with me are numerous. Staying connected to those avenues is something I almost feel obligated to do, more often than not. No matter where I am, I’m never hard to get in touch with. It’s a bad habit, but one I find hard to break.

I’m not even sure I completely disconnected over the holidays. In fact, considering so many of my friends and family don’t live in the same city as I do, I’m positive I didn’t. Pictures had to be shared, after all.

In any event, I know I’m not the only one. I know several people who carry multiple devices, just to make sure that they are always one text message, one instant message, or one phone call away from whoever may be trying to reach them. Being accessible to those you know isn’t a new way of life or anything. As our smartphones have become more fused with our everyday lifestyle, it’s practically common practice to see someone texting while at dinner. Or, taking pictures of their food to share with their friends via Twitter, or Facebook, or other social networking options.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that you should cut back on all of those things. Disconnect for a little while! I’m not going to preach that because you have already heard it. In fact, you’ve probably told yourself to do any one of those things. And maybe you have disconnected for an extended period of time, even a few days. That’s great. Fantastic, even. But we all know you came back to it, and maybe even hit it harder than ever before. Binged, maybe. Sent a lot more text messages than normal. Couldn’t stop scrolling through Twitter, or your Facebook feed.

There are moments that need to see some kind of break, though. The trouble is, it’s hard to suggest a way for it to happen. It’s not hard because there aren’t methods to force the disconnect, but it’s hard because unless some kind of outside force shuts it down, we all know that people are still doing what they shouldn’t be doing. I’m talking about texting and driving, specifically.

As our very own Chase Bonar talked about yesterday, scary situations can come up unexpectedly while we’re driving on the road for any number of reasons. But the moment we introduce texting into the mix, or checking our phones in general for that matter, those situations get amplified exponentially. Here are a few statistics, to hopefully drive the point home a little bit:

 

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver (Distraction.gov)
  • In 2011, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver (Distraction.gov)
  • Driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent (Carnegie Mellon)
  • Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, which if you are going 55 miles per hour, means you’ve gone the total length of a football field (VTTI)
  • Texting and driving causes a total of 25 percent of all accidents, or 1.6 million per year (National Safety Council)

 

Those are scary figures. And those aren’t all of them. The statistics on driving-while-distracted are exhaustive. While there are plenty of reasons why a driver can be distracted, including “grooming,” texting is the largest issue we’re faced with. I just think about that football field people drive, essentially blind (as their eyes aren’t on the road), and I can’t help but get terrified. That’s a long way to go without knowing what’s really going on around you.

Stopping people from driving and texting is almost impossible, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Releasing this information is both crucial for statistics, but also for raising awareness. There’s no doubt that people know doing anything with your phone while you’re driving is dangerous, but we still see people do it.

Which is why it’s good to see companies like AT&T trying to do something about it. The wireless carrier’s “It Can Wait” (ItCanWait.com) movement saw plenty of traction in 2012, and it’s good to see that they will be keeping it up this year as well. According to AT&T, more than 140 organizations have joined the cause to stop texting and driving. Their efforts have reached more than 75 million user accounts across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. There have been more than 500,000 pledges to stop texting and driving made since the start of the mission.

But one of the best stats, I think, comes in the form of how many times an application has been downloaded. AT&T has an app called “DriveMode” available through Google’s Play Store and BlackBerry World. This app, which you have to download and turn on, will send a custom text message reply to any texts you may receive while your car is in motion, driving at 25 miles per hour or faster. It lets the person on the other end know you’re driving, and that you’ll get back to them when you’re not.

It works for emails and voice calls, too. It’s an app that, for all intents and purposes, shuts access to your phone off if you choose it to. There are ways to deactivate the app, like when you’re in the car but as a passenger, but it only shuts off for an individual trip. Get back in the car, after the app shuts down (it does this when it stops going 25 miles per hour or more for five minutes), and you’ll be back to sending automatic replies, or shoving calls to your voice mailbox.

AT&T’s DriveMode isn’t an app that they preload on your phone, but I’m wondering if that would be a terrible idea. I know that most people do not like bloatware, but could the masses get upset about an app that’s primarily designed to save lives? Yes, I’m sure they could, especially those people who do not want to be forced away from their phone while driving.

That got me thinking: Should it be up to companies like AT&T, Verizon, or even Samsung, Apple or HTC to shut down our phone’s ability to send texts, answer phone calls, or respond to emails while we are driving? What about checking Twitter or Facebook? Is this something that companies should even be considering? Or should we continue to leave it up to the individual and hope for the best? Let me know what you think, Dear Reader.