Monday, November 23, 2009

It’s called an off switch

If more people knew where the off switch was on their cell phones and other personal devices, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion about distracted driving.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Even without cell phones, driver distraction would still make for a worthy topic. Nonetheless, the phones and other communications devices are near and dear to us, and they are here to stay.

Let’s talk about some of the work being done to combat distracted driving.

You likely already know about the legislative efforts on Capitol Hill to assist or force states to enact new or tougher distracted-driving laws. If not, do some research and read up on Senate bills S1938 and S1536 and House bill HR3535. OOIDA supports the approach taken in S1938.

Public service campaigns in the form of TV ads, Internet videos and general media awareness are gaining traction. Sometimes, they take the extreme approach, but if it hits home with young drivers, the job is getting done.

Next up are the technology vendors, who are clamoring to bring technologies to market to reduce driver distractions.

A handful of vendors presented their products and concepts on Friday, Nov. 20, during a workshop held by the Federal Communications Commission.

One thing is certain (keeping in mind that technology shares blame in this mess): The competition in the technological arena is sure to be fierce.

Some technologies could be downloaded or used to disable or lock a driver’s phone while a vehicle is in motion. We already know about Bluetooth and others that allow hands-free.

OK. Here’s one that made me curious. If you were driving and your phone started ringing or alerting you to a text, the cell provider or an application could “answer” it for you and tell the person on the other end that you’re busy driving and will return the call or text later.

Exceptions would obviously be made so drivers can call 9-1-1 or navigate safely on a route.

Obviously, some kinks would need to be worked out including the issue of privacy.

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all application out there yet that’s going to solve these problems outright. The off switch still sounds like a frontrunner to me.

Last but not least – and I like this one for any type of distraction –is the concept of driver education and training. Teach people what is safe behind the wheel and what is not, and this becomes a lot easier than trying to get spilled milk back into the glass.