Did you ever notice that in movies, characters who are supposed to be driving seem to keep their heads turned toward the camera way too long? They might be involved in a heated argument with someone in the back seat, or delivering a hilarious monologue to an audience watching from the perspective of a passenger — and although you know it is just a movie, all you can think is: Watch the road!
Those of us who are deeply involved with the consequences of injury due to auto accidents are probably most inclined to feel this way. But we are not alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has taken up the cause of distracted driving in a big way, and in April 2013 released its first set of guidelines related to distracted driving — not to drivers, but to automobile manufacturers.
The voluntary guidelines urge automakers to design the built-in functions of a car so that tasks require drivers to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel no more than two seconds at a time. The guidelines also suggest that certain functions be disabled while the car is moving, such as manual text entry.
The recommendations were released along with a research report on the risks of cell phone use while driving. Together, the documents include several notable observations:
- The number of crashes involving a driver using an electronic device went from 24,000 in 2006 to 47,000 in 2010.
- Text messaging doubles the risk of having a crash, and the combined tasks of using a cell phone (locating, dialing, etc.) can triple the risk. However, simply conversing on a cell phone was not found to increase risk.
- Two activities — interacting with a passenger and conversing on a hands-free phone — were actually found to increase driver safety, most likely because they require no visual or manual distraction and may cause the driver to slow down.