Safe Strategies for Using Tech Toys in the CarKim Boatman
Just because we’re behind the wheel of a car doesn’t mean we leave our tech toys behind these days. We talk. We tap out text messages. We read our email. In a connected society, it’s hard to un-tether ourselves for the length of a commute or the amount of time it takes to shuttle the kids between after-school activities.
Sure, distracted drivers are everyone’s pet peeve. But consider these statistics:
- While 70 percent of participants in a 2006 poll by online automotive web site Autobytel said they don’t think it’s safe to talk on a cell phone while driving, a whopping 84 percent confessed they talk and drive.
- The same poll found nearly 40 percent of those surveyed had sent text messages while driving.
- Almost 80 percent of crashes happen within three seconds of an incidence of driver distraction, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.
Distractions increase the accident rate four-fold, “the same ratio as drinking and driving,’’ says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, the consumer activist group founded by Ralph Nader in 1970.
Increasingly, it seems, drivers fidgeting with tech gadgets pose a real risk on our roads. A recent spate of tragic fatal auto crashes in the U.S. has been attributed to sending and receiving text messages, particularly among teens. In New York this past June, text messages flew back and forth from a teenager’s cell phone just before she slammed head-on into a truck, killing herself and four other recent high school graduates.
So, just what are the safest ways to handle our many tech tools while behind the wheel? Experts offer these tips:
It’s not enough to use a hands-free headset rather than clutching a cell phone to your ear. “Some states have passed laws banning hand-held cell phone use, but the research shows hands-free devices are just as distracting,’’ says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It’s best to take a cue from the airlines and simply turn off devices such as cell phones and BlackBerrys for the length of your drive. “Lock 'em in the glove box. Put them in the console beside you. Turn them off when you’re driving,’’ says Ditlow.
If that call or that crucial email simply can’t wait, get off the road. While some GPS systems won’t let you plug in addresses while moving, others still do. Hands off while you’re driving, says Ditlow.
the help of the passenger
Instead of the driver, let the passenger of the vehicle answer the phone or utilize the GPS system.
your line of vision
GPS systems are proliferating. And the popular after-market systems that attach to the front windshield should be placed where they don’t interfere with driver vision.
stretch, reach or lean
Reaching for tech toys often has drivers performing front-seat gymnastics. If you’re shopping for a new car, consider a model that offers buttons on the steering wheel to control the radio and other features. If you’re in a rental car, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the radio controls. Try to preset favorite stations before you leave home or work.
Even though temptation may beckon, it's also important to set a good example for your children -- the future drivers of the world. Show them first-hand how you save emotional or stressful conversations, emails or text messages until you’re off the road. Don't fiddle with your GPS or fuss with the radio until you're safely stopped in a parking lot or at a traffic light.
“The road requires our full attention," says Rader, "but now the road has a lot of competition.’’
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