The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has asked automakers to minimize the distractions presented to drivers by in-car technology. While not disputing the benefits of curbing distracted driving and the car accidents caused by inattentive drivers, car makers are reluctant to eliminate the features that can set their vehicles apart from competitors. If a driver can use his or her cell phone to call, text, email, instant message, track GPS, and surf the web, why should the car makers be prevented from building in devices to accomplish the same ends? The dispute raises the question of who is responsible for keeping drivers’ attention on the road.
California has had complete bans on texting and the use of hand-held cell phones on the books for several years. A recent report from the University of California at Berkeley indicates that traffic deaths have dropped by 22 percent and the number blamed on cell phone use has been cut in half in that time. In Illinois, efforts to curb distracted driving have included a total ban on texting while driving as well as a ban on cell phone use by bus drivers, drivers under 19, learner’s permit holders, and drivers in school and construction zones. Illinois is currently considering a statewide requirement that drivers use a hands-free device if they want to use a cell phone while driving.
The National Transportation Safety Board is seeking a nationwide ban on the use of portable electronic devices while driving. Such a ban would seem pointless if auto makers simply moved the distraction to a built-in device. However all these regulations, requests and policies play out, safe driving will remain dependent on drivers. Until cars operate themselves, drivers owe it to themselves and the other people on the road to drive attentively. Whether distractions are against the law or simply a bad idea, drivers must realize that driving is a serious responsibility.
In the end, no law can eliminate all driver distractions. Cars have come equipped with radios for many years and no laws have been passed to eliminate them. The laws may help reduce distractions, but it is up to drivers to do what they can to prevent accidents.