A lot happened in 1994. Right here in Southern California, we witnessed O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco chase, the bankruptcy of Orange County, and a 6.7-magnitude earthquake that rocked San Fernando Valley. The impact of these and other important events that year have generally faded with time. One event, however, continues to be relevant because it marked a shift in consumer technology use that still affects our lives today. The year 1994 is when the first smartphone hit the market.
In less than a quarter century, the number of smartphone users in the United States has grown from zero to more than 200 million. Is society better off as a result? Not when it comes to traffic safety, that is for sure. Drivers distracted by a smartphone make mistakes they otherwise would not. Here are some reasons why.
There Is No Such Thing as a Distraction-Free Smartphone
California recently banned all handheld cell phone use by drivers. The new law closes the “navigation loophole” (previously, drivers caught holding their phones could avoid a ticket for handheld calling/texting by claiming to be using a navigation app). Drivers must now mount their phone on the dashboard and use only a single swipe or tap of their finger on the screen.
By taking phones out of drivers’ hands, the law makes smartphones less of a physical distraction. Unfortunately, that may not be enough. Smartphones are also a visual and mental distraction. A law that requires people to mount their phones and restricts finger-to-phone contact does nothing to address these other two concerns. Drivers will still look at the screen instead of the road, and their minds will still be preoccupied by conversation instead of focused on the task at hand.
Every smartphone sold today requires at least some involvement of the user’s fingers, eyes, or mind. This is unlikely to change any time soon. Even with distracted driving accidents so prevalent, smartphones are becoming more interactive, not less. New phones have big, attractive displays and content designed to fully engage the user.
Mobile Apps Can Affect How People Choose to Behave
Facebook Live is a feature that allows people to broadcast themselves to family and friends in real time. When the broadcast concludes, the video appears in the person’s feed so it can be viewed later like any other post. Instances of people turning on Facebook Live while driving are already producing tragic results. For example, in a shocking live broadcast from last year, a young man filmed himself speeding and weaving through traffic before crashing violently.
In terms of distracted driving, live-broadcasting apps are dangerous because some users feel the need to “show off” for their followers. Social media posts are meant to attract attention, after all. How many videos of safe, attentive driving go viral? Probably none. Worse yet, some apps are specifically meant to get users to engage in conduct that is not conducive to driving, such as searching for imaginary monsters, or traveling at high speeds.
Safe Driving is a Matter of Common Sense
If you find it ironic that a device meant to improve our lives is causing so many accidents, it gets worse – there is a growing belief that self-driving cars are the answer to distracted driving. In other words, smartphones made us stupid drivers, so now we need smart cars to fix the problem.
Whatever the future brings in terms of new technologies, we do not need to wait. We can act right now to put an end to car accidents caused by smartphones. All we must do is put these devices away when it is time to drive.