Sat, Nov 19, 2016 - Page 14 News List

Smartphones, dumb drivers

Biggest spike in US traffic deaths in 50 years? Blame apps

By Neal E. Boudette  /  NY Times News Service

Police officer Matthew Monteiro speaks to a motorist in July about texting while driving while patrolling on his bicycle in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Efforts to discourage drivers from texting have increased in recent years, but the consensus is that the problem is only getting worse.

Photo: AP

The messaging app Snapchat allows motorists to post photos that record the speed of the vehicle. The navigation app Waze rewards drivers with points when they report traffic jams and accidents. Even the game Pokemon Go has drivers searching for virtual creatures on the nation’s highways.

When distracted driving entered the national consciousness a decade ago, the problem was mainly people who made calls or sent texts from their cellphones. The solution then was to introduce new technologies to keep drivers’ hands on the wheel. Innovations since then — car Wi-Fi and a host of new apps — have led to a boom in Internet use in vehicles that safety experts say is contributing to a surge in highway deaths.

After steady declines in the US over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of this year, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

‘CRISIS’

“This is a crisis that needs to be addressed now,” Mark Rosekind, the head of the agency, said in an interview.

The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating an Oct. 26 crash near Tampa that killed five people. A passenger in one car, a teenager, recorded a Snapchat video showing her vehicle traveling at 115mph (185kph) just before the collision.

A lawsuit filed in a Georgia court claims a teenage driver who was in a crash near Atlanta in September of last year was using Snapchat while driving more than 100mph (160kph), according to court records. The car collided with the car of an Uber driver, who was seriously injured.

Alarmed by the statistics, the US Department of Transportation in October outlined a plan to work with the National Safety Council and other advocacy groups to devise a “Road to Zero” strategy, with the ambitious goal of eliminating roadway fatalities within 30 years.

CRACK DOWN

The Obama administration’s transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, said that the near-term effort would involve identifying changes in regulations, laws and standards that could help reduce fatalities. That might include pushing for all states to tighten and enforce laws requiring use of seatbelts in cars and helmets on motorcycles while cracking down on distracted or drunken driving. The effort might also include tougher regulation of heavy trucks, Foxx said.

A second, related effort would focus on setting longer-term goals and speeding the introduction of autonomous-driving technologies that many safety experts say have the potential to prevent accidents by removing distracted humans from the driving equation.

One concern so far, though, is that current generations of automated driver-assistance systems, like the Autopilot feature offered by Tesla Motors, may be lulling some drivers into a false sense of security that can contribute to distracted driving.

Whether highway safety officials in the Trump administration will have the same priorities, though, is too soon to say. The names of candidates for transportation secretary have not yet been publicly floated.

Most new vehicles sold today have software that connects to a smartphone and allows drivers to place phone calls, dictate texts and use apps hands-free. Ford Motor has its Sync system, for example. Others, including Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, offer their own interfaces as well as Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto.

This story has been viewed 4526 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top