Laws Do Little to Stop Drivers from Texting; Safety Officials Look Towards Technology for Help

It’s hard to imagine what the world was like before texting—everywhere I look there is someone texting on their cell phone. Sadly, it’s often that I see someone texting while driving, an incredibly dangerous thing to do. In fact, according to a recent study released by the U.S. government, texting-related fatalities have soared in recent years, from 4,572 in 2005 to 5,870 in 2008. Unfortunately, this news is a blow to recent laws implemented to deter drivers from texting while they’re behind the wheel. Specifically, even with new laws in place that punish drivers with fines for texting while driving, many people still can’t seem to stop the bad habit. Instead, the researchers involved in the government study, as well as law enforcement officials, argue that technology is the only solution that will solve the problem.

The Highway Loss Data Institute recently conducted a study comparing auto insurance claims from California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington — all of which adopted laws banning texting while driving in 2008 and 2009. Instead of preventing texting-related car accidents, laws seemed to have the opposite effect: the bans were associated with a slight increase in the frequency of auto insurance claims in the four states. Nevertheless, public safety advocates and the institute itself are not ready to give up on texting bans, but do stress that other technologies need to be put into place as well.

Several companies have already suggested new technological approaches. For example:

  • Inthinc Technology Solutions uses a mix of telematics and fleet management software in its real-time driver behavior monitoring and mentoring product. The product not only addresses distracted driving, but also other safety issues, such as seat belt use or speed limits. If a driver abides with the system’s warnings, then there are no problems. However, if the driver fails to adhere to the warnings, then a notification is sent wirelessly to the company or a parent (since texting while driving seems to be a bigger problem with the younger crowd). Cellphones can also be limited to “safe mode” while the car is in operation.
  • Cellcontrol’s obdEdge commercial application integrates a vehicle with whatever mobile devices a company may hand out through an onboard diagnostic dashboard. However, this device is particularly for use inside company vehicles, so drivers could still sneak a non-company cell phone into a company car. Nevertheless, most employees who have company-issued cell phones get reimbursed for their expenses, so the cost savings might be a further deterrent from using a personal cell phone while driving in the company car.

Whatever the solution, hopefully, one will be successful in stemming the lethal danger of driving while distracted.

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