Shane BarnhillMonday,11 March 2013

The Snap:

My daily commute is a solid 45 minute drive each way. Consequently, I see a lot consistent behaviors from drivers. Some crank up their music and rock out. Many tailgate. And I see a lot of road rage (especially when temperatures spike over 110 degrees Farenheit here in Phoenix, which is common during the summers). But one behavior is more common in drivers these days than all of the others put together.

Everyone is looking at their phones.

The Download:

Sometimes this texting and tweeting happens at a stoplight, and I can forgive that when I see it. After all, we can’t really be expected to go without stimuli for the 60-90 seconds that it takes for a light to change (I’m kidding… er, maybe not). But more and more, I’m seeing hordes of people with their heads down and their eyes on their phones while they’re driving at speeds of 75-80 miles per hour during rush hour freeway traffic.

Heck, I even saw a guy who had mounted a homemade iPad stand on his steering wheel. I’m sure the contraption made it a lot easier for him to read during his commute, and if I had had my phone out like all of the other drivers, I would have Instagrammed that scene, for sure.

Undoubtedly, there are some productivity benefits to this behavior. After all, drivers are bound to sneak in a work email or two between all the Facebook posts and text messages,. So, there’s that.

But really. We all know that texting and driving is a bad idea. Even those who heavily overestimate their ability to multitask while driving know deep down that they’re increasing their risk of injury and/or death when they drive while distracted (as much 23x, according to one study). But this common knowledge doesn’t appear to be changing driver behavior — at least among those who drive on Loop 101 and Loop 202 on weekdays in the Phoenix metro area.

In this way, texting while driving is fast becoming the new smoking. The data is there to show that it’s detrimental to health and long life. Still, people either assume that the statistics don’t apply to them, or they’re pretending that they don’t know about the risks. Update: Business Insider has published a timely piece indicating that Google’s driverless technology could save up to 1.2 million lives worldwide per year.

For this reason, we really need Google to hasten the implementation of its self-driving car initiative. Despite ignorance-based fear of the technology, the data shows that Google’s cars are far safer than human-driven automobiles. After all, the computers that run these cars don’t get tired, they don’t drink and drive, and they certainly don’t take their eyes off the road to type out ironic “YOLO” tweets.

However, to date only Nevada, California and Florida have certified Google’s cars for their state roadways — and Google doesn’t expect its cars to be ready for widespread use for another 3-5 years (hurry up, already, Larry and Sergey).

In the meantime, there are two things that we can all do to help.

First, stop texting and driving. Today. This is especially important if you’re a parent, because your kids are watching your every move. Imagine visiting them in the hospital one day after a texting-caused accident, only to have them tell you they thought it was okay to text occasionally because “you do it, and you’ve never had a problem.”

Second, contact your local representatives and ask them to support self-driving cars. While the technology may seem like a no-brainer for many, you can bet that lobbyist groups that represent those who stand to lose from driverless cars going mainstream — think taxi drivers, bus drivers, etc. — will be mounting a huge challenge based on misinformation and FUD. There’s a battle coming, and it’s time to arm our elected officials with the information that they’ll need to make decisions that will save lives. It’s important to make our voices heard.

So you — yes, you, the one reading this now — reach out to your representatives today. And if you happen to work for Google, tell Larry Sergey to please HTFU.

Hat Tips:

Image Credit: Flickr

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