Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Distracted

Distracted driving is on the rise, and so is the death toll.

Westend61 / Getty Images
Westend61 / Getty Images

In 2017, the number of deaths caused by drivers running red lights reached 939, its highest point in a decade, going up 31 percent since 2009, according to a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. AAA researcher Brian Tefft says he thinks distracted driving is one of the causes.

That’s hardly surprising. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 2012 to 2017 distracted driving was connected to almost 20,000 fatalities. The N.H.T.S.A. notes that texting can take your eyes off the road for five seconds — at 55 mph, that’s enough for you to drive the length of a football field effectively blindfolded.

A survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics in May found that over half of U.S. parents acknowledge it’s unsafe to text while driving, but about the same percentage have done it anyway. And hands-free phones have been found to be just as dangerous as hand-held phones. That’s why last month a House of Commons committee in the U.K. recommended that drivers be banned from using all phones.

We’ve let technology into every part of our lives, and now we’re starting to see some of the downsides — which get pretty serious at 60 mph. The problem is that our addiction to our phones doesn’t magically turn off when we turn on the ignition.

The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada gave its award for Best Safety Innovation for 2019 to Subaru’s DriverFocus system, which uses facial recognition to alert you if it senses you’re distracted or drowsy. Will it be too intrusive, some ask? Hard to say, but it’s a sign we’re driving in the right direction: technology built around augmenting our attention rather than carjacking it.

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