This truly scares the shit out of me.
One in five Americans with a smartphone admits to using the internet while driving, with social networking ranking as one of the most popular distractions that's taking eyes off the road. The survey was carried out by US insurance company State Farm, which obviously has a vested interested in knowing who is paying attention …
A few days ago I was about to cross the (busy London) road to get to the Co op, and as the pedestrian crossing light was red I stopped at the kerb when the next car stopped, as you'd expect when the lights had changed. I was about to step into the road when I glanced up at the lights and saw that they were still red to pedestrians. I looked at the woman driving the car, couldn't see why she'd stopped, looked away, then thought I'd look again and this time I noticed she was on the blower. She had a smartphone and was holding it horizontally and as low as she apparently could and still use it, obviously trying to hide the fact she was deep in long distance conversation ! Gradually she became aware that the lights for her were still green and she drove off again, though not without first veering dangerously towards the kerb.
I never have an iron bar when I want one,
...as stupid does. And stupid people will unfortunately do such things, no matter where they live. As we cram more and more entertainment into our cars and smartphones we can expect more of this stuff.
Who will be the first smartphone company to invent one that cripples almost ALL functionality when it becomes aware that it is in a car and (ideally) is being held/operated by the driver?
I realise this is impossible, sadly but without it innocent people will continue to be killed by stupid people who insist on taking and making calls while driving and tweeting/updating their facebook status every few minutes.
The universe and mans stupidity, thought i'm not certain about the former...
Unfortunately statistics let us down too, when despite all odds, it never seems to be the stupid people who are run down, blown up or otherwise removed from the gene pool. On the rare occasion this happens, at least we have the darwin awards in recognition.
"I realise this is impossible, sadly but without it innocent people will continue to be killed by stupid people who insist on taking and making calls while driving and tweeting/updating their facebook status every few minutes."
Do you have actual figures for the number of people killed by drivers who are browsing the web? Or is it just more of the "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! BEFORE THESE MANIACS KILL US ALL!" hysteria?
I'm sure people check their phones at traffic lights. Some may even Google while driving. The thing is people always did things that distract them while driving; be it eating, smoking, taking something out of the glove compartment, reaching behind the passenger seat for a map, smacking the kids in the back seat, etc.
We also have plenty of legislation around dangerous, careless, and reckless driving so I could never understand this concentration on phone use specifically.
Spot on. As long as people have had to drive a very boring, uneventful route, people have found ways to make it not so monotonous. Radios for one. Then people started rummaging around, reading maps, talking to the passenger, then on the phone, then texting, surfing, watching videos, etc. American highways (definitely out West) are quite the long, straight, and boring that most don't see in the UK. Driving in a (roughly) straight line at 120km/h for 30min can be quite mentally taxing (in the sense trying to stay awake: research "road hypnosis"). Once automated highway/freeway driving becomes safe/mainstream, we won't have to worry (as much) about all these drivers. Until then, buy yourself the larger-than-them vehicle. At least then, in a crash, you'll win (maybe).
I80 across Kansas is like that, except without the scenery, fast food places, or exits.
Driving is inherently often dull and often dangerous - that's why far more people die from automobile traffic accidents than from air travel accidents, say, or terrorism. (So where's our Global War on Cars, eh?) Eliminating distractions, as Hud and others have pointed out, will not help: no distractions is as bad as too many distractions.
Ideally drivers would seek a "distraction level" that sufficed to ward off road hypnosis and the normal inclination to doze off. (This wouldn't help for really tired drivers, but nothing is going to make driving while sleepy safe.) But there will always be a healthy supply of idiots who divert too much of their attention. Education may help reduce their number, but this isn't a problem that can be fixed, as long as people continue to spend hours continuously operating machines with fatal failure modes that can be triggered by a few seconds' inattention.