Changes in behavior key to preventing distracted driving

Safety experts, lawmakers and car manufacturers all recognize that distracted driving is dangerous and has become one of the most common causes of auto accidents in the U.S. While safety experts have offered many different suggestions on how to address the issue, lawmakers and car companies have come up with different approaches they believe will prevent the practice of distracted driving. It remains to be seen, however, which approach will prove to be the most effective.

Will a technological approach work?

For their part, lawmakers in many parts of the country have enacted bans on cell phone use or texting in an effort to ensure that people have an incentive to keep their attention to the act of driving. In the meantime, car makers have stepped up efforts to develop systems that allow drivers to continue to use cell phones and other devices while behind the wheel. This includes not only so-called "infotainment systems," which allow for hands-free texting and phone calls, but also new wireless communication systems that make vehicles self-driving.

While some safety experts and government agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have spoken out in favor of technological advances designed to stop distracted driving, others have made a strong argument that altering driver behavior is the only real solution. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit group that represents states' highway safety offices, driver education efforts are the only real way to make sure that drivers think twice before using their cell phones or other devices while on the highway.

In the GHSA's view, the primary driver of bad behavior is social pressure, even if there are useful technologies in place to help encourage good behavior. Other experts have agreed, saying that drivers should approach time on the road like they do flying: there are times when using a cell phone or other electronic device are simply not allowed. Studies indicate that current feelings about cell phone use among the general public are similar to beliefs about seat belt use in 1980. Making seat belt use the norm required not technological innovation, but a combination of regulation and education efforts.

It remains to be seen whether any particular approach will solve the distracted driving problem in the U.S. It seems likely, however, that the GHSA is correct and that convincing people to stop using their cell phones while driving will require a multifaceted approach.