Friday, August 21, 2009

Driving While on the Cell Phone

On the drive to work today I watched a car quickly swerve into and out of the next lane. I took a quick look at the driver as I passed, and sure enough he was on his cell phone. Of course this scenario happens countless times per day. I wondered how many accidents occur because of cell phone usage.

A quick search on Google, (not while I was driving) and a few extra minutes to sort out the information yielded some interesting statistics. Harvard researchers estimate about one in 20 U.S. traffic accidents involve a driver talking on a cell phone. “We calculate that around 2,600 people die each year as a result of this use of the technology," said researcher Joshua Cohen of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. Another 330,000 are believed injured.

The Harvard researchers calculated the costs associated with accidents caused by cell phones, such as medical bills and loss of life. The costs added up to an estimated $43 billion a year.
So what’s the solution? We aren’t going to give up our cell phones. Cell phones offer benefits such as security and peace of mind for instant communication, increased productivity, privacy and quicker crime and accident reporting. All of these are undeniable benefits of cell phones.

The current trend is to create laws to limit, or even ban cell phone usage. New York State banned handheld cell phone use by drivers in June 2001. Six other states have some regulation of in-vehicle use of cell phones, ranging from a one-hand-on-the-steering-wheel rule to prohibiting school bus drivers from using a phone. There is already a push to ban cell phone use altogether.

In my opinion legislation is the wrong approach…it’s not practical in my view. I believe technology is the answer to this problem; and this technology is available now!

Lane Departure Warning Systems: This is some cool stuff! Basically you have cameras on your car, an onboard computer loaded with image recognition software. When your vehicle drifts, the system creates an audible warning, or a distinctive rumble.

Forward collision warning: This system uses radar to warn to the driver when his vehicle is too close to another vehicle.

Blind spot warning: Radar and computer algorithms alert the driver when another vehicle is the blind spot. The system is activated when the turn signal is engaged.

The obvious question is will this new technology become mandatory in new vehicles? According to The Detroit News, it might be. The Motown daily says that government officials are pondering whether or not they should require new vehicles to be fitted with lane-departure warning systems and automatic braking systems that trigger upon warning of an impending accident.

Both systems are currently available only in a very small percentage of new passenger cars – primarily luxury vehicles. According to the Detroit News report, safety experts believe that the systems "show significant promise" in their ability to reduce traffic accident-related fatalities and injuries.

My opinion is if a particular technology can save lives, and is reliable then it should be available. I feel that it is inevitable that this kind technology will become widely available…even if the government does not get involved. Anti-lock braking, side curtain air-bags, are some examples of technology that started out available on luxury vehicle, which eventually became options or standard on most vehicles. I see the same thing happening with lane departure warning systems, and collision warning systems…it’s just a matter of time.

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