Save Lives, Reduce Injuries, Cut Health Costs, Don't Drive and 'Telecommunicate'

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Save Lives, Reduce Injuries, Cut Health Costs, Don't Drive and 'Telecommunicate'

When I was growing up we had a family friend who when she drove had the nerve-wracking habit of turning to you when she spoke. Fortunately this dear individual lived to early 90s.

I also grew up in an era where drunken driving was frowned upon but it was still not uncommon to get behind the wheel bombed out of your skull. My father once weaved 45 miles from an office party to our home. When my mother saw him stagger through the door I thought she was going to murder him. He lived--he's in his 80s now.

Unfortunately all too many people are not as lucky as our friend and my father. And that especially includes the victims: those riding with them and who were out on the road that day. Years later I made my living from these avoidable tragedies: as a newspaper reporter covering horrendous accidents, including one where a brandy bottle had been thrown clear of the scene into a snowbank. I also married a wonderful lady whose son is a paramedic...

It has taken years of a combination of education and tough laws to limit impaired driving, changing the culture from tolerance to disgust. Watch an episode of 'Mad Men' to see what I mean. With the vast increases in motor vehicle use since my youth I'd hate to see what the death tolls and injury stats would have been like if these measures weren't taken. How many more accidents I would had to make sense of for others. Or lives my son would have had to try and save.

So I ask this industry: when are you going to wise up and take a leadership role and get with it on ending driver distraction by technology i.e. to ban and punish harshly those who 'telecommunicate' (phone, text, video, etc.) when operating a motor vehicle? Like the Province of Ontario's new law (yes I used to be an Ontario resident and motorist with a clean driving record and I supported its legislation) that comes into effect Oct.26.

The province cited a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study that examined a driver's risk of being involved in a "safety critical event" (a crash or near-crash) when using hand-held device. Researchers compared the performance of passenger car drivers and drivers of heavier vehicles such as transport trucks.

Key findings included:

* Dialing and texting is associated with the highest degree of risk of all cell-phone-related activities among car drivers -- increasing their risk of being in a safety critical event by 2.8 times than if they had been focused on the road. Among truck drivers, dialing a cell phone resulted in a 5.9 times greater risk, and text messaging resulted in a 23.2-times greater risk.

* Talking or listening had a lesser impact on car drivers, increasing a driver's risk by 1.3 times and had no impact on truck drivers.

* Reaching for a hand-held electronic device increases crash or near-crash risk among both types of drivers, increasing the risk by 1.4 times among car drivers and 6.7 times among truck drivers.

Nuance recently put out a press release that supports a ban on texting while calling for "In-Car Systems, Devices and Mobile Phones Powered by Speech Technology to Minimize Visual and Manual Driver Distractions " (I wonder which firm makes such technology...)

Nuance correctly points out that texting's "obvious distractions pose a serious danger to drivers, their passengers and others on the road. The practice of texting while driving takes drivers' eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel, which has lead to a number of highly-publicized accidents."

Yet "Nuance also advocates for a federal initiative that drives the increased deployment of these systems, enabling a safer mobile environment via hands-free interfaces requiring limited to no visual confirmation."

Nuance--and other tech firms who promote hands-free tools--miss the point. It is the inattention by sight, sound, and touch to driving the vehicle (like our family friend) that can (and does) kill and injure, not this or that solution. Like the guy who was on his precious device who then ended up in a multivehicle fatality on a recent episode of 'Trauma'.

An opinion piece by journalist John Lorinc that appeared in Canada's Globe and Mail Monday Oct.5 made this point. It contrasted the denial of the tech industry to that of the liquor business. The former is in denial. The latter has, to use its advice 'behaved responsibly'.

"But in the country that invented the BlackBerry, such attention raises a question about corporate responsibility: What is Canada's wireless sector - and leading firms, including Research in Motion, Rogers and Bell - doing to educate its customers about the risks?

"Answer: as little as possible.

"By comparison to the liquor industry's highly visible public education campaigns about the hazards of drunk driving (TV, radio, billboards, print, Internet), the smart-phone sector is disturbingly uncommunicative about the skeletons in its closet."

There is no excuse for 'telecommunicating'. It is risky, dangerous, and deadly. The only device is one that should be allowed or on is a message alert in the form of a flashing indicator (which goes off after five seconds) that is at the peripheral field of vision.

Moreover the injuries and deaths from 'telecommunicating' adds to healthcare and emergency services costs. At a time when the U.S. in particular is focused on health expenses, does it make sense not to crack down on this practice--which, like drunk driving--only increases them? Those of us who make and have made our living in blood and guts sincerely want to see less of them.

For unless you are a professional driver, with a commercial license (and insurance) and using communications device for work and/or you're in a in a life-and-death job (fire/police/first responder, M.D. etc.) on a call, you have no real good reason to drive and communicate at the same time. There is nothing that you do that is so important to the existence of others and to the grand scheme of things that it can't wait for you to pull over to chit-chat when not doing so could have tragic consequences.

Like speeding. When I'm driving at the normal (safe/legal) rate of flow and some moron flashes their lights behind me and I don't see a flashing light on top or on their dashboard my attitude is that they can get lost...and I love it when they get pulled over by the flashing lights.

What Nuance and other tech firms should be doing instead is to take a leadership position in educating the public and pressing for tough and readily enforced regs against distracted driving, and be in it for the long haul. What each of you who are reading this should do is pull over when called or to make a call or contact.

For the hard reality is that very few of you have the skills to do both. And when you combine that with weather, rough road surfaces, and the other idiots that are out there the odds increase astronomically

Do you really want to be the next person to kill and hurt others or be killed or hurt yourself?

One last note--there is no sound like the thump of a human being hit by a vehicle. No sight like watching someone--and their child--bleed to death on the asphalt. No feeling as helpless as not being able to do anything more than what you have already done.

Do you want to be the cause of this because you were on your wireless device?

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