essay on distracted driving today...
HI-TECH DRIVING SCHOOL
Today’s Society and Driving The Age of Smartphones and Its Distractive Effects on Driving Rea Lorraine Flores 9/29/2013
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Today’s society has seen an enormous increase in technological advancement, particularly in mobile technology. It is the time when smartphones dramatically change the way people use their phones. Not only does it enable one to connect with other people but it allows easy access to the Internet, a huge database of information and resources. The list of things people can do with their smart phones seem to be boundless nowadays with the introduction of so-called “apps”, which are pieces of software applications designed to perform a specific function. It is understandable how people can become so attached to their smart phones due to the conveniences and entertainment such phones provide literally at their finger tips. This attachment is not more evident than in the increasing number of people who use their phones when driving. Cell phones are a known driving distraction that can cause serious fatalities. However, with the advent of smart phones and the all too popular social media it provides, there is a growing concern in how this impacts society’s behaviour and actions behind the wheel. This essay will talk about how prevalent the use of mobile phones is when driving in today’s society and the dangers it present on motorists, pedestrians and passengers alike. A recent article published by the Time magazine (Kadlec, 2012), in Business and Money section, reports that there is a new category of consumers emerging right now who have high preoccupation with their smart phones, aptly dubbed “smartphonatics”. Smartphonatics are those who use their phone for many aspects of their everyday living, whether it be work, travel, shopping and managing money. An online survey of 1, 000 Canadians found that 56% of adults own and use a smart phone, which was up from 33% last year (CBC News, 2013). The survey also discovered that 8 out of 10 smart phone owners do not leave their home without it. This level of obsession is clear in reported statistics on texting and driving. One investigation says that 1 in 4 smart phone owners check their phone while behind the wheel
(Kadlec, 2012). Despite knowing and acknowledging the threat to their safety the use of their phone presents while driving, the percentage of motorists who still do is alarming. Half of driver aged 16 to 24 have texted while behind the wheel, while those of aged 35 to 44, 22% stated to have done the same (“Mobile phones and driving”, 2013). The obsession to smart phones is further evident in polls done all over the world which gathered that users check their phones as frequent as every 10 minutes. They even sleep with their phones next to them (Gilbert, 2012). This level of fixation continues and is clearly unabated whatever the phone user is doing and even if he or she is in the middle of a task requiring focused attention and vigilance, in particular driving. Distractive driving is known to be a growing epidemic and the percentage of distracted driving as a result of texting/ checking mobile phone continues to rise (CAA, 2013). Concerns have been raised that the use of mobile phones while driving increases the risks of getting into a crash, near-crashes, and crash-related conflicts. Some highly publicized vehicle collisions were found to be caused by drivers texting/using their cell phones. One was the recent north of Scarborough crash of a TTC bus and a van. The accident killed a passenger getting off the said bus. Witnesses confirmed the van driver was on the phone at the time of impact. This example proves that just a moment’s distraction on the road can be fatal. A recent time trial performed by CAA established that replying to a text message takes about 33.6 seconds (CAA, 2013). That is an alarmingly long time for the eyes to not be on the road! One could miss a lot in that period of time: a speeding car coming in from the side, a pedestrian crossing the street, etc. With the increase in mobile phone users, especially smart phone, which have more exciting additional functions than the regular cell phone, how this might lead to a rise in distractionrelated collisions and fatalities will continue to be a growing concern.
The technology of today is so advanced that cars are equipped with built-in gadgets and accessories that the car itself literally become a smartphone on wheels. These may have advantageous functions, for e.g. GPS navigation systems, but other accessories could not credit the same benefits. Hands-free devices may not be a step-up toward safe driving people think they are. Research suggests that hands-free phone conversations do not eliminate road errors. Findings say that it is the increased mental workload required in holding a conversation that increases risk (“Mobile phones and driving”, 2013). A particular study featured in the journal Experimental Psychology discovered that planning to speak and speaking demand higher cognitive work than merely listening (“Mobile phones and driving”, 2013). Therefore, whether it is handheld, hands-free of built-in into the car, talking on the phone is never risk-free. Texting, the most common action involved in mobile phone-related car accidents, can now also be done hands-free. There are voice-activated applications popularly used such as Siri in iPhones and Vlingo for android smartphones. Similar with hands-free cell phone conversation, voice-to-text texting does not seem to be a safer method, either (Walton, 2013). A study involved 43 healthy individuals were asked to drive a closed course while performing hands-free texting and then while texting manually. Results found that drivers took twice longer to react no matter the method used for texting when compared to when drivers were not texting at all (Walton, 2013). According to CAA, texting heightens risk by 23 times more. Such statistics are a little too high to be putting one’s life at risk. Smartphone companies and car manufacturers are working in partnership to make car dashboards an extension of smartphones (Globe editorial, 2013). While this will certainly enable drivers to send messages by voice-activation from a much bigger interface i.e. the
dashboard, instead of manually thumbing them on the phone, they also present new, albeit different distractions. Examples of such distractions are the capability to connect to the Internet, do searches to find nearby restaurants, coffee shops, banks, etc. Unlimited networking would be a source of too much distraction that the benefits of in-dash technology are close to nullified. Being aware of the potential dangers, car companies have introduced a feature in their in-dash navigation systems that will prevent drivers from performing tasks that take their eyes off the road (Globe editorial, 2013). There is also an app that will block texts and calls when driving at more than 15 km/h. These may help in reducing distraction when on the road, but still it is up to the driver to make use such apps and accessories to their full advantage and stay focused on the task at hand, which is driving. It was proposed by a study conducted by the University of Vienna that two factors determine the high level of mobile phone use (“Mobile phones and driving”, 2013): perceived social norm and self-identity. Even before the dawn of smartphones, cell phones have become a necessity for people, either for work or as a means to communicate with family and friends. Now, with the additional capabilities smart phones offer, like being able to surf the Web, check one’s e-mail and connect with the social media, everybody seems to want one. And statistics in Canada do show that everybody seems to own one (Gilbert, 2012). The other factor/s that causes people to become so attached to their smartphones are the functions and applications built-in or downloadable into the phones. It is easy for owners to personalize their phones with apps that they need and which interests them. Just like clothes are a way to express personality for other people, phones have become an extension of the owner’s individuality.
What can people do to address this increasing propensity of drivers to check and use their phones while driving and disregard their obvious threats to safety? The two factors mentioned above will make it a difficult task to completely eliminate the distraction phones create when driving. Legislations have been put into effect that ban mobile phone use while driving. In Ontario, the ban took effect back in 2009 making it illegal for drivers to “talk, text, type, dial, or e-mail using hand-held cell phones and other hand-held communication and entertainment devices”(MOT, 2012). Exceptions are hands-free devices and of course, to dial 9-1-1. Technology can be relied on too to promote safe driving. Apps are now available to alert drivers to a potential collision and to distracted pedestrians who may be listening on their iPods or texting on the phone themselves. It is built-in into the dashboard so the driver only has to glance at it when the signal comes on. However, in the end, the change in people’s mentality about phone use and driving will make the most difference in successfully combating distractive driving. Smartphones have become ubiquitous. They are wonderful devices that have quickly caught people’s fixation. The sharp rise in smartphone owners in Canada have led to increased cases of distracted driving-related vehicle collisions, injuries and fatalities. Hands-free devices and in-dash accessories and gadgets may be created for the purpose of safer phone use during driving, but evidence shows that this is not the case. They may even present more of a distraction since smartphone companies and car manufacturers continue to introduce more and more in-car features that will essentially be sources of new distractions for the driver. Ban laws and certain useful apps are trying to promote safer driving habits. However, they will only be truly successful if they go hand in hand with individual awareness and enforcement. So the next time a text comes in while driving, do not pick up the phone to see who it is from. It can wait.
References Kadlec, Dan. “How Smart Phones Are Changing the Way We Bank, Drive, Have Sex and Go to the Bathroom”. Time 22 June 2012. http://business.time.com/2012/06/22/how-smartphones-are-changing-the-way-we-bank-and-drive/. Sept 25, 2013. “Smartphone use way up in Canada, Google finds.” CBC News. The Canadian Press 29 Jul. 2013. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/smartphone-use-way-up-in-canada-google-finds1.1384916. Sept 25, 2013. “Mobile phones and driving safety.” Wikipedia 23 Sept. 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org /wiki/Mobile_phones_and_driving_safety. Sept 25, 2013. Gilbert, Jason. “Smartphone Addiction: Staggering Percentage Of Humans Couldn't Go One Day Without Their Phone.” The Huffington Post 16 Aug. 2012.http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2012/08/16/smartphone-addiction-time-survey_n_1791790.html. Sept 25, 2013. “Distracted Driving.” Canadian Automobile Association. http://distracteddriving.caa.ca /education/index.php. Sept 17, 2013. Walton, Dawn. “Roads no safer with hands-free devices, study finds.” The Globe and Mail 24 May 2013. Calgary. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national /roads-no-saferwith-hands-free-devices-study-finds/article12149961/. Sept 25, 2013. Globe editorial. “Smartphone companies and carmakers need to fight distracted driving.” The Globe and Mail 16 Aug. 2013. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary /editorials/smartphone-companies-and-carmakers-need-to-fight-distracted-driving/ article 13836848/. Sept 25, 2013.
Canada. Ministry of Transportation. Driving Requires Your Full Attention. Ontario: MOT, 2012. http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/distracted-driving/. Sept 17, 2013.