Distracted driving is a relatively new term but has actually been around quite a while. With so many noisy passengers in his ark, Noah probably wasn’t watching where he was going either and if there were more things to run into, he probably would have hit something. Cars themselves originally had few built-in distractions. If you owned a Model T in 1913 you would have found absolutely nothing interesting to look at on the dash. It only had a temperature gauge and key entry and that stationary temperature needle would get old real quick. What did kids DO in cars back then?
Dashboards now are cluttered with gadgets and dials from touchscreens to coffee makers. I'm sure the intent of adding things to the dash was to help keep us on track and safely get where we wanted to go but dashboards have a new and much more frivolous purpose: entertain and impress. The gadgets we really need are the ones that protect us and others, such as the emerging lane-correcting and automatic braking features. But will more safety features like these just make us more complacent to do more distracting activities?
I heard a story once of a retired couple who decided to buy an RV and travel the country. Their new RV was very fancy, it had a full working kitchen, two bathrooms, and auto-pilot. The couple happily bounced into their seats and set off. Once on the freeway, the driver set the auto pilot and got up to go to the bathroom. The RV drifted over a lane, then to the shoulder, then to a complete stop in a ditch. Car insurance and RV insurance can't always protect us from ourselves.
Turns out, that auto-pilot was really cruise control. Cars can now accelerate, steer, brake, and navigate without the driver doing a thing, with more advances to come. As we move closer towards replacing the human element in driving a car, are we opening the door for more and more distracted driving until we finally reach full automation?
As technology replaces more and more of the things that keep us involved in the driving experience, we will be free to spend more and more time focusing on things OTHER than driving. Innovation is born of necessity and it appears that a large number of people have already decided that texting while driving is a required part of life.
There are 253 million cars in the US with more cell phones then there are people (including children). Texting is involved in roughly 25% of all car accidents today with distracted driving as the #1 cause of accidents in the US. As convenience technology advances, our attention span wanes.
We are trying to solve the problem of distracted driving by removing the driving part out instead of the distractions. Maybe we should refocus our efforts on making driving itself more enjoyable and maybe even preferable to texting. Simpler communication technology (I'm looking at you blutooth), easier to use dash technology (so many freaking buttons), and more encouragement of safe practices behind the wheel from an early age will go a long ways to bringing us closer to the future without the painful lessons learned along the way.