Can New Technology Reduce Distracted Driving?

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Disturbing news from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA): People using apps on their phones while they drive have contributed to the biggest spike in traffic deaths in 50 years.

Although it’s illegal to have a phone in your hand while you’re driving in 14 states—and texting while driving is illegal in 46—the National Safety Council now attributes more than 1 million crashes annual to drivers on cell phones. Additionally, distracted driving now plays a role in crashes than kill eight and injure another 1,200 people every day in the U.S.

These are confirmed facts that raise many questions—but the answers are few. Should the government be expected to save us from ourselves? Should the automotive industry produce vehicles that discourage driver distraction and inhibit phone usage when the vehicle is in motion?

Are new apps and more technology a potential tool for reducing crashes?

USA TODAY’s Jennifer Jolly reports that a new gadget called ‘Navdy’ operates as her in-vehicle smartphone surrogate. “It’s a small, sleek, futuristic heads-up display that pops into a mount on your dashboard, plugs into your car’s ODB [on-board diagnostics] port and syncs with your smartphone. When a message hits your phone, it gets forwarded to Navdy and it pops up out of thin air, as though hovering above the roadway five feet in front of you. The driver receives messages, never misses a GPS prompt and eyes stay glued to the road.”

“Through the Navdy app on your smartphone, you can sync your calendar and get notifications from many of your apps including Facebook, Twitter, Slack and so on,” she noted.

But does anyone really need this? Those kinds of notifications can be worrisome—it’s still facilitating the intellectual distraction, even if it removes the physical one.

Jolly noted that too, however. She says Navdy’s notifications are in line with NHTSA’s distracted driving guidelines, and that its $800 device is a safer way to get information from your smartphone while driving. “Critics say it’s still too much multitasking,” she adds, “and that even though your eyes are on the road, your brain is not.”But, she concluded, she likes how “Navdy is trying to reach a safer middle ground. I know we should lock our smartphones in our trunk when we drive…and yet, here we are.”

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