Studies appear to show that mobile phones, sound systems, GPS devices and electronics of all sorts distract drivers and make accidents more likely. The reality is that inattentive, unskillful or unwise drivers cause accidents, not their gadgets.
In the past decade, the use of phones and other electronics by drivers has
increased radically, yet during this time overall accidents have declined. What
has changed is our perception of what is causing accidents.
For example, if some idiot is tailgating while yammering away on the phone and
they get into an accident, you can bet the phone will be blamed.
Calls to ban mobile phones in cars are based on bad information. Yes, a
person can be distracted by a cell phone call. But they can also be distracted
by daydreaming, listening to music, rubber-necking, and
I consider myself something of an expert on in-car gadgets. I drive a Toyota
Prius, which is a gas-electric hybrid vehicle with an LCD display in the middle
of the dashboard. In addition, I have a big, color GPS on top of the dash, and a
Sirius Satellite radio gadget between the seats. And I typically yak away on my
Treo 650 phone while driving.
There are those out there who think that banning all this from my car would make
me a safer driver.
In truth, the most distracting thing I've ever put in my car is my wife. She's a
backseat driver par excellence, and just a distracting person in general.
I think most people would agree that passengers can be at least as distracting
as gadgets. Yet I haven't heard calls to ban passengers -- or marriage.
What's really happening is that, once again, government is slow to respond to
technology. Driver training should include tips and information about managing
one's own mental awareness.
Airplane pilots are taught and tested on how to stay focused on flying
regardless of distractions; how to keep attention outside of the airplane
instead of looking too much at instruments; and "resource management," which is
how to safely access charts, airport information and other data.
Police squad cars are loaded with two-way radios, computers and other
distracting equipment, yet nobody is calling for these things to be removed. The
cops are trained to use them safely.
Drivers should be trained with specific education about coping with driving
today, rather than, say, driving in 1955.
Prospective drivers are tested on using hand signals for turning, for example,
but nothing about using a GPS safely. How many people do you think use a GPS
compared with the number of people using hand signals?
Let's stop pretending that mobile phones and other in-car devices are going to
go away, and start catching up with reality in our driver education and testing. More importantly, let's make sure we don't hand out licenses to anyone who can fog a mirror. Driving should be reserved only for people who are willing to pay attention to their driving and not be distracted by anything, including gadgets.
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