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Block cellphone signals in cars to prevent distracted driving?

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Should cellphones be automatically disabled in moving vehicles to reduce the growing death toll from distracted driving?

It’s an extreme solution. Researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association are proposing that cars and trucks should be engineered so that any hand-held device is rendered inoperable when the car is in motion.

“Automobile and cell phone equipment manufacturers have the engineering capabilities to implement these safeguards, and they should be required to do so,” said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, the Director of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University.

Considering that previous studies on driver cellphone use did not go so far as to suggest the practice to be legally banned, this is a surprising conclusion. However, cellphone use has grown exponentially in the last 10 years, and there is much more data on the number of auto accidents and fatalities caused by distracted driving. These factors led to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to call for a full national ban on using mobile devices while driving.

The study authors suggest that a law alone is not sufficient. It can be very difficult for police officers to see what drivers are doing inside their cars; some have suggested that accidents are actually more likely when people try to hide their phone use.

So is it remotely practical to attempt to block cellphone signals in cars?

Among other objections, I expect there would be questions regarding passenger and emergency use, the cost of implementation, the variance between new and old cars, and last but not least, the necessity of such a drastic practice.

Researchers’ conclusions do not always lead to good policy – but good policy often comes from strong research. See details on the distracted driving study in the Los Angeles Times, or on the JAMA website.

1 Comment

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  1. Jay Farlow says:
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    Stopping distracted driving requires changing behaviors. When a phone signals an incoming call or message, the desire to respond is almost Pavlovian.

    Families can help each other avoid the strong temptation to pick up smartphones while on the road with an app for iPhones and Android phones called, Canary. Canary reports to an accountability partner (e.g. parent, spouse, friend, employer) and creates a log entry anytime a person uses a smartphone in any way (including texting, tweeting, surfing the web, etc.), while traveling at least 12 mph. Users find the resulting reports sobering (most have no idea how often they are risking their lives and the lives of others). Also, the knowledge that someone else will know helps them resist the temptation to look at a text, etc. while driving.

    More information is on the Canary Project’s website: http://www.thecanaryproject.com/

    Also, here’s a link to a story that an Indiana TV station recently did about Canary:
    http://www.wane.com/dpp/news/local/app-helps-cut-down-on-distracted-driving