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Joel Feldman
Joel Feldman
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“Driverless” Cars and the Dangers of Distracting Technology

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“Driverless” cars may save lives in the future, but until that happens, we have a responsibility to reduce driving distractions and not increase them.

Tesla’s Elon Musk’s comments about the future of driverless cars provoked some media interest. Particularly this comment:

“[P]eople may outlaw driving cars because it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a person driving a two-ton death machine.”

That’s a curious statement for an executive of a car manufacturer that prides itself on offering an incredible car that provides a stellar driving experience. What would that driving experience be like if the car was “driverless” in the future? Maybe not as much fun, but it likely would be safer.

There is some truth in Mr. Musk’s comment, because the vast majority of crashes are due to driver error. But until cars become driverless, we have to try to reduce the more than 32,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from motor vehicle crashes. And we have to figure out how to do a better job in protecting our children. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and that is linked directly to driver inexperience, speeding and driver distraction. Teens are dying in crashes at about three times the rate of any other age group. I attended the largest traffic safety conference in the world last week in Chicago — Lifesavers 2015. Among the attendees were representatives of law enforcement from across the country. I made a point of asking every law enforcement officer I saw this question:

“If you arrived at the scene of a terrible crash and learned that it involved teens, would your first thought be that alcohol or distraction was a cause?”

Everyone responded the same — distracted driving.

To a large extent, drunk driving campaigns have been successful. Drunk driving has been stigmatized, particularly among our children. But we have a long way to go before distraction-free driving is not only accepted, but expected, and our children are disproportionately paying the price.

Most of us see others driving distracted and criticize them, yet drive distracted ourselves. Many of us are parents, and we tell our children not to use their cell phones while driving, yet we do so — and often with our children in the car.

Mr. Musk points out the hazards of driving a “two-ton death machine,” yet Tesla has incorporated into its newest models an enormous 17-inch navigation screen that, in and of itself, is a major distraction. Tesla is also working with AT&T to make its car a virtual “smart phone on wheels,” providing drivers with access to Facebook, stock quotes and other information unrelated to the safe operation of their car (CNN Money, Jan,7, 2014).

So, that two-ton Tesla will become more distracting and dangerous. And Tesla is not alone — many auto manufacturers are scrambling to introduce more and more distracting technology without first studying how that technology will affect safety. And while we wait for our cars to become driverless, more and more of us, particularly our children, will needlessly die.

On March 31,2015 the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is hosting its first “Multimodal Roundtable on Distractions in Transportation.” I hope that we can work together to stem the epidemic of distracted driving — for ourselves and for our children.

About Joel Feldman

Anapol Schwartz Partner Joel Feldman founded End Distracted Driving (EndDD.org) after his daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. EndDD.org promotes driver safety through a scientifically-based distracted driving presentation that has been given by hundreds of lawyers, nurses, physicians, safety experts and other professionals. These presentations have been seen by more than 250,000 teens across the U.S. and in Canada.

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  1. Robert Thompson says:
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    “..drunk driving campaigns have been successful. Drunk driving has been stigmatized, ” NO, not really. Still too many drunk driving and some studies say Distracted Driving is more addictive than drinking. Time to severely punish both who obviously don’t care for their life or any others by their bad habits.