With all our technological advancements in the vehicle arena, more people are dying in crashes than at almost anytime in history according to the National Safety Council. The NSC estimates that 40,200 people died in automobile accidents in 2016, up 6 percent over 2015. We haven’t seen this level of vehicle death in a decade. Georgia has seen a 34 percent increase in vehicle deaths from 2014 to 2016 according to the NSC. Georgia had the fifth highest percentage increase in the nation. And the death toll comes in third behind Texas and California.
One of the reasons cited is distracted driving. Many drivers hold their smartphones in higher regard than Gollum held his “precious” ring, constantly staring at its shimmering screen or picking it up whenever it beckons — even while steering a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds. The other reasons for a higher death toll have nothing to do with technology, but human behavior. Speed and intoxication, with speed being the most contributing factor in highway fatalities even as actual crashes decrease in some states.
But can technology also act as savior? The answer is a qualified, “maybe.” Technology exists and is on the market right now, that can disable cellphone use, internet access, even game playing while in a moving vehicle but still allow the ability to make 911 calls. Other features include reports of excessive braking, cornering and speed. These type apps are usually employed by parents. Nothing is fool proof, and it still needs some degree of human cooperation. And while young adults exhibit risky behavior, they are not the only ones speeding or running red lights, or reading and answering texts while driving.
While Georgia law bans all cell phone use for drivers under age 18 and texting for everyone, all we have to do is look around to see how well that’s working. According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
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Car manufacturers are developing different technologies, from heads up displays to text messages read aloud over the vehicle’s speaker system and voice-activated replies. Navigation units are becoming less expensive and more common in lower-priced vehicles with larger, clearer displays. And there has been an effort to have the government require phone makers or auto manufacturers build into their products systems that would automatically disable a cellphone’s ability to text or connect to the internet.
The other issues of speed and intoxicated driving are more vexing. Difficult to put speed governors on every vehicle and we have yet to convince those who have a penchant for drinking and driving that their sickness could get them and whoever they hit, killed. Maybe one day technology will be able to identify drunk drivers, but that day hasn’t arrived yet.
But there is something else out there, that, over time, might do the trick: Education. Locally, the Kiwanis Club has been staging its Teen Driving Roadeo with the cooperation of several participants from trucking companies to law enforcement. Having an experienced trucker demonstrate to teens what he can and cannot see in his mirrors is a lesson well learned. They also see what a rollover looks and why it’s important to wear seat belts. The Sheriff’s Office is in full force showing teens, using special goggles, what it feels like to drive impaired. AT&T, using virtual reality technology, has given teens demonstrations that should have scared the bejesus out of them about what could happen if they take their eyes off the road to answer a text message. It’s a great event that could save lives and it’s all hands on experience teens can put into practice, the Kiwanians even provide lunch. The next Teen Driving Roadeo is Saturday, September 30.