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Report: Cars Need Cell-Phone Shut-Off to Stop Distracted Driving

Educational and legislative efforts to curb the epidemic of distracted driving have fallen short, and engineering and technological innovations are needed to meaningfully cut down on cell phone use behind the wheel, according to a co-author of an article published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Jeffrey Coben, one of the co-authors of “Keeping an Eye on Distracted Driving,” says a device to shut off cell phones in moving vehicles may be necessary to meaningfully cut down on cell phone use behind the wheel.

Coben is affiliated with the West Virginia University Schools of Medicine and Public Health and the Injury Research center.

There are at least partial bans on texting while driving in 39 states and Washington, D.C. But Coben said in an author interview with JAMA that current bans appear to be ineffective largely because of the simple difficulty in detecting whether a person is texting or using a cell phone while driving.

“It’s really difficult for law enforcement to apprehend violators and detect unlawful use,” he said.

A report from the IIHS published in 2010 said that texting bans might actually be contributing to an increase in crashes.

Coben’s suggested solution: killing cell phone functionality when that phone is in a moving vehicle.

“We haven’t focused enough on the issue of engineering and technology to actually reduce the use of hand-held devices,” he said.

Coben says technological innovations like air bags, automatic locking doors and antilock braking systems are some examples of huge technological and engineering innovations that made driving much safer, and a similar measure may be needed to address distracted driving.

Specifically, Coben said cars should have built-in technology that would make it so a hand-held cell phone “is rendered inoperable once the vehicle is in motion.”

Technology Would Address a Growing Problem

Despite successful initiatives to penalize cell phone use behind the wheel and to educate the public on the dangers of the practice, up to 40 percent of survey respondents say they still use a cell phone while driving, and up to 15 percent say they text while driving.

“Now, this is just self-reported, and we think those estimates are actually quite low,” Coben said.

There were 3,000 fatalities in 2003 that were associated with cell phone use, along with thousands of nonfatal injuries, and Coben expects that the problem has gotten even worse since then. That should be no surprise, considering he also said existing research shows your risk of getting in an accident is about 23 times higher if you’re texting.

While authorities like Coben continue to advocate for technological approaches to curb distracted driving, legislators around the country continue to push for bans on the practice. Earlier this month, legislators in Texas began considering a bill to ban texting while driving statewide. In South Dakota, lawmakers recently passed on a bill to do the same in their state. Both states are of the 11 total that lack all-driver texting bans.

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