It only takes a few seconds of texting or calling while driving for an unretractable mistake to be made. Despite societal awareness to the threat of distracted driving while using a cellphone, the CDC has reported that nine people die everyday as a result. It’s an epidemic that must be addressed and it is incredibly important that cell phone manufacturers are held accountable. However, I also believe that it’s unfair to blame tech firms solely and we should be applauding the industry on the steps in the right direction it has taken, condemn its more recent attempts to reverse regulations, and to make it our collective responsibility to fight against distracted driving. It is clear that using cellular devices on the road is a major cause of accidents and we have to be aware that this is a serious, major issue. Studies have shown that in many instances, the driver was using a cell phone right before a collision occurred [Washington Post].
There have been conflicting information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which states that more likely causes of increased traffic deaths are low unemployment, low fuel costs, and human errors such as not wearing a seatbelt. The official statistics from the Department of Transportation go on to say that distracted driving accounts for solely nine percent of traffic related deaths. An outside NGO known as the National Safety Council has criticized these numbers because the Department relies on police reports to aggregate their data. These reports do not take into consideration other things such as the usage of hands-free cellphones, driver assistance, and more, which leads to nonrecognition of these factors as plausible causes [Slate]. Improving government data collection can help us against misinformation of the issue’s importance. The modest efforts on the part of the tech industry to address the misuse of cell phones on the road should be commended. In the past, hands-free technology has been championed by cell phone manufacturers as a way for drivers to make phone calls and focus on the road simultaneously.
However, a cognitive study by the University of Utah has concluded that drivers were more careless and paid less attention when they were on their phone regardless of whether it was a hand-held or hands-free device [Boston Globe]. More recently, Apple released an update that allows Iphone users to turn on a “Do Not Disturb” mode on their phones so that they are not notified if they receive a message or a call while driving. Only emergency messages and calls would go through and it reduces the temptation to check their phones. We should further encourage Apple, Samsung, and other tech giants to continue to improve upon their technology and develop features in mobile devices that could improve driver safety and save lives. Despite all of this good, it is private lobbying on the part of manufacturers to scale back regulations that could potentially endanger more lives. The Department of Transportation created a set of guidelines governing mobile devices known as Phase 2. It recommended an automatic “driver mode” and the ability for devices to bind to their dashboards [Slate]. Although voluntary, these guidelines are seen as a threat by tech firms because of the public pressure it exerts on them to follow these suggestions.
Lobbying groups such as the Consumer Technology Association, which is affiliated with Apple, AT&T, and other tech corporations, have in recent months been pressuring the Department of Transportation to reverse Phase 2 guidelines because of this “unnecessary pressure.” Another group known as the CTIA argues that the guidelines are too difficult to implement, stifles innovation, and constitutes government overreach into private industry. However, these claims are unfounded as the Phase 2 guidelines are in place to protect users and it creates a nationwide standard for future driver safety. By advocating for such regressive measures, cell phone manufacturers are making themselves complicit in allowing more tragedies to continue.
In resolving the issue of distracted driving, it is imperative that we come together to address it from cultural, political, and technological perspectives. We should both applaud the cell phone industry in making strides towards improving driver safety while condemning their attempts to rescind common-sense regulations that would curb the issue of distracted driving. Our number one priority must be saving lives and working for the common good, and cell phone manufacturers must be involved in the national dialogue to make such progress happen.