Technology Must Prevent Texting While Driving, Say Doctors

Note: DO NOT read this story on your cellphone while driving.

Distracted Driving

Ryan Harvey via Flickr

Cellphones are responsible for a quarter of all accidents in the U.S. Texting is particularly bad, since it serves as both a mental and visual distraction. One study found that texting makes an accident up to 23 times more likely. Enough is enough--we need to do someting, argue a father-son team of Canadian doctors, who wrote an editorial in the British Medical Journal arguing that PSA's and education not be enough.

Instead--paradoxically--technological fixes may be necessary, write Montreal physicians Dr. Barry Pless and son Dr. Charles Pless. Gadgets and apps that "nudge" people toward safer driving could be the best hope to solve the problem. These could include software that prevents texting while driving, set as a factory default, as well as automatic messages telling callers that the recipient is driving.

Other fixes "include a sensor such as a signal jamming key that prevents mobile phone reception when the ignition is engaged," which is already available at www.key2safedriving.com. (Here's another device that does the same thing.) The doctors also like the idea of technology which can detect that a phone is in a moving car, and thus blocks non-emergency calls, routes incoming calls to voicemail and stores incoming texts. There's already one app for that called TeenSafer.

Laws could also help, although studies show conflicting results on the matter. But perhaps legislation just needs to be tougher. "Part of the responsibility lies with the law makers to make sure the penalties are severe," Dr. Barry Pless told The Globe and Mail, noting that New York state has put forward legislation that would double a young driver's license suspension from the current six months for texting while operating a vehicle. "If you're a kid and you know you're going to lose your licence for a year ... and you have a reasonable expectation of being caught, then one hopes that you will be persuaded not to do it," he added.