Scholarship 2017 Fall Winning Essay: Anjali Kalra

Subject: What Can We Do To Decrease Distracted Driving Accidents?

Writer: Anjali Kalra

“Where u at.” this simple, seemingly innocent phrase is the text message that killed 18 year old Mariah West in 2009, the day before her high school graduation. While she was responding to the text, her car lost total control, hit a bridge, turned over on its roof, and headed straight into oncoming traffic. Mariah was partially ejected from the car and her skull was crushed. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reported that 25% of teens respond to at least one text while driving, every single time. According to the The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Nearly 391,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting while driving. These shocking statistics make one thing crystal clear- no text is worth dying for.

Using sensor data from more than 3 million drivers and 5.6 billion miles of trips, driving analytics company “Zendrive” found that drivers are using their phones on 88 percent of their journeys. Texting drivers take their eyes off the road for each text for an average of 5 seconds- which at 55 mph, means they’re driving the length of an entire football field blindfolded, reports David Hosansky, author of CQ Researcher’s Distracted Driving: Should Driver Texting and Cellphone Use Be Banned? Texting and driving can be fatal for anyone regardless of age and there are proven techniques how we can resist the urge to constantly check our phones, even while on the road. Even though many states have laws to ban cellphone use, thousands of drivers disregard these laws and text every day, putting not only their lives but other driver’s lives in jeopardy as well.

In order to minimize distraction while driving, there are many precautions that can be taken before a driver steps into a vehicle. Simple, yet important steps should be followed to prepare for all of the desired conditions before driving including the GPS, song selection, air conditioning settings, seat adjustments, and mirrors to ensure a safe driving experience. The more a driver has to worry about the environment inside of the car, the higher the chances for the  driver’s eyes to be diverted from the road. Despite taking the necessary steps to eliminate these distractions, there are drivers who still have the urge to constantly check their text messages, answer phone calls without bluetooth, and even check social media while their vehicle is in motion. According to the NHTSA, there are three types of distractions: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off driving). Drivers may falsely assure themselves they are the masters of multitasking but texting initiates all of these distractions and can make driving life threatening. Although handsfree and bluetooth systems in cars exist and can reduce the amount of times a driver’s eyes look away from the road, they can still pose a cognitive distraction. Just these measures alone are still not enough to eliminate distracted driving as, according to USA Today, 1 out of 4 car accidents in the US are still caused by texting while driving. So many drivers fail to realize that nothing on their phone is more important and valuable than their life and the response can wait until their car is no longer in motion.

One solution to the problem of distracted driving is to completely eliminate the temptation of a cell phone in a moving car. An innovative approach to the life threatening urge to constantly check one’s phone, is to create an app for the cellphone that can sense when the vehicle is in motion and then have the app disable the use of distracting apps, texting, and calls. A sensor connected to the app through bluetooth is attached to the steering wheel and will recognize when the car is moving and will then lock the phone with the exception of the critical features such as 9-11, maps, and an emergency list of phone numbers. These restrictions will only release when the vehicle is sensed to be in the ‘park’ position or when the driver has completely exited the vehicle. Through the bluetooth connection between the app and the sensor, the technology will be will be able to detect whether the driver is operating the vehicle or if they are just a passenger. This app completely eliminates all potential distractions: cognitive, visual, and manual that cell phone use can pose. It ensures not only the the driver’s safety but also the lives of those around him or her on the road as well.

There are many incentives to this program that are not only for the drivers, but for the parents of teen drivers and even for insurance companies. Parents can install this app on their teen’s phone and monitor their cell phone use in the car. They will get alerts on their own phone when their teen driver attempts to open a locked app or remove the sensor and can then decide the consequences such actions on their own such as suspending phone use or even driving privileges for the best interest of their child. Parents also have the ability to allow their child access to a select list of contact numbers in case of emergency. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 11 teens die every day as a result of texting while driving. This program alleviates the anxiety or concerns many parents have when their teen is behind the wheel of a vehicle and the dreaded fear of their their little boy or girl ending up in the emergency room when this situation can be easily avoidable.

The incentives of this program for the driver are obvious. Driving is already extremely dangerous. A driver is seated in a metal contraption barrelling up to 80 miles per hour down a busy highway, maneuvering lane changes and keeping a lookout for construction zones, traffic jams, and exits. Despite this, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released new survey results showing that at any given time throughout the day, approximately 660,000 drivers are still attempting to use their phones for prohibited practices while behind the wheel of an automobile. Research has shown us that drivers don’t intentionally mean to put themselves in danger when checking their phones- it happens without them thinking about the deadly consequences. When a driver constantly uses this distracted driving app over an extended period of time they will no longer have to fight the urge to check seemingly important texts and driving distraction free will become ultimately become a habit. This will raise the user’s awareness to keep them on high alert if they happen to be a passenger in a car operated by a distracted driver. There is a higher chance the user of the app will encourage the driver that cell phone use can wait because they have learned the importance of driving without distraction. This app and sensor will make a tremendous difference to reduce distractions and through this technology safe driving habits will become part of the norm especially when instilled in teens, the future generations, in the years to come.

Another major incentive offered by this technology is reduced insurance rates for drivers.  Data from this program can be connected to insurance companies if the driver chooses to do so. The app can send information on how many times the driver has attempted to access restricted apps and the time frame one is able to drive without distractions. By using this analysis, the companies can assess how responsible and safe the driver is. If the driver restrains themselves from texting or using restricted apps over a certain period of time set by the insurance company, the driver will have the opportunity to get a small discount off their insurance bill. After an even longer time frame of sensed restraint of cell phone use, larger amounts are deducted from the insurance rates as an incentive to promote this positive behavior. Through this program, rates will continue to decrease over longer period times for those who drive without distractions and for the drivers not using prohibited applications on their phone. The time frame resets from the   beginning if prohibited cell phone use is detected through the app. This program is a way for insurance companies to reward those who earn their trust as safe drivers.

No text is as valuable as a life. This simple, yet life saving app can instill safe driving habits in drivers of all ages and ensure parents that their teen driver’s attention is completely focused on the road. Standard precautions should be taken before operating a vehicle but this app provides an extra layer of safety to one’s driving experience. Technology use in a car should definitely be limited, but the use of this app is one technology implemented in cars that can save lives and change our world for the better.