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Hands Off Driver’s Cell Phones

Let’s face it. Every single one of us has been a distracted driver behind the wheel of a 2,000 lb. car. We spend our ride munching on a burger and fries. We preen in the rear-view mirror. We yell at the kids in the back seat. We blow past the warning screens on our GPS to look for directions. We think about work. We daydream. And we talk on our cell phones.

 Every single one of us could stand to put this on our list of New Year’s Resolutions. Number 1. Lose weight. Number 2. Exercise. Number 3. Take personal responsibility while driving. Focus. Pay attention to the task at hand. Just like most resolutions, we won’t stick to it. A solution is on the horizon.

 We could not have imagined 25 years ago that these small electronic devices would come to rule our lives. What a wonderful invention to be able to call AAA when your car breaks down, check in with the spouse, order a pizza, get the house number to that potluck dinner or finish important work – all while trapped in our shiny metal boxes.

 As technology would dictate,  some other new gadget is in our futures that we have not yet imagined that will add to our list of driver distractions. Cell phones will be old hat.

 So, while I support an all-out ban on texting while driving, just as I would support a ban on watching the last episode of Glee behind the wheel, the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) had it wrong when it recommended an all-out ban on cell phone use while driving late last week.

 The NTSB failed to recognize the incredible technological advances on their way to help deal with this problem. My thinking? Technology has created a problem for distracted driving, let’s use technology to fix it.

 You see, no one has told you that we are headed for a whole new era in vehicle safety. Earlier his year business leaders, safety advocates, government officials and academics met for the Edmunds Safety Conference in Washington DC., to broaden the knowledge of policymakers when it comes to automobile safety.

 This is important because until now all our cars safety features aim to mitigate a crash – air bags, seat belts and strong structural design. The new wave of technology will work to prevent the crash.

 Many luxury carmakers already use technology to make an owner’s ride safer and the trickle-down effect will be swift. Within a few years, reasonably priced cars will have forward collision warning, autonomous braking, blind spot detection, pedestrian detection, back-up collision prevention, active cruise control and lane departure warnings.

 Your car will warn you of impending disaster so you can avoid it and will even correct for you when you can’t, braking for you, slowing the car down or steering you back into your lane. You car will even react to what other cars are doing – slowing you down when it senses the lane change of another vehicle. Cameras and smart phones will be allies in this effort.

 Cars of the future will talk to one another to warn of hazards on the roadway – like the mattress that fell of the back of a truck or the oil slick that caused another car to skid. Remember when we used CB radios and long haul truckers to help with that?

 With or without cell phones, there are a lot of bad drivers on the road.

 As our population grows, more inexperienced teenagers are getting licensed and we are poised for an explosion of older drivers whose declining skills make driving more of a challenge.

 Let’s not be afraid to ask our Legislators to leave this problem to the technological wizards. I want my elected officials to do the heavy lifting and make the tough decisions, but sometimes the tough decision is not to legislate.

 While a cell phone ban sounds like a good idea in principle, it isn’t. Our phones are extremely valuable in our lives. It isn’t fair to say, “stop using your phone or you will kill someone.” There are so many other things that cause crashes. The kind of thoughtful and earnest discussion that came out of the safety conference does more to address the issue than a popular but shallow stab at the problem.

 In the meantime, we need to heighten a national campaign to convince people to use good judgment. Has anyone gone on YouTube to watch the stories Oprah Winfrey put together of the families who have endured losses from cell phone use on the road? We could easily put one together than encompasses all those bad, distracting behaviors and plaster it on national TV. Remember the fried egg and your brain on drugs? Given the difficulty of enforcement, we’re better off convincing people to make the right decision.

 Let’s acknowledge our personal weaknesses and wisely move in the direction to strengthen our transportation safety.

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