Should Phone Makers Take on the Texting-While-Driving Problem?


No texting while driving ordinance sign

We’ve all heard it: texting and driving is dangerous. In the United States, more than eight people are killed every day in motor vehicle accidents that involve distracted driving, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Texting while driving increases the likelihood of a car accident by 23 times compared to driving without a distraction. Yet we continue to see the number of distracted drivers on the rise.

It’s not as if law enforcement isn’t trying. Most states have already banned texting and driving, and hand-held cell phone use is banned in 14 states and Washington, D.C. Wireless companies are well aware of the problem, too. AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign asks drivers to take a pledge to never drive distracted. AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon each offer free apps to their customers that disable texting and/or calls when driving. And there are plenty of other apps available in the marketplace to stop drivers from texting while driving.

With all of the state laws, local ordinances, public service announcements, educational campaigns, and apps, it seems like we should be well on our way to conquering this dangerous distracted driving problem, right? Nope. A report released by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety earlier this year found that:

  • 42% of drivers admit to reading a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days (12% report doing so fairly often or regularly)
  • 32% admit to typing or sending a text or email over the past month (8% say they do so fairly often or regularly)

Then there’s the question about addiction. A study commissioned by AT&T for its “It Can Wait” campaign suggests that texting while driving is a result of addictive behavior. “We compulsively check our phones because every time we get an update through text, e-mail or social media, we experience an elevation of dopamine, which is a neurochemical in the brain that makes us feel happy,” said Dr. David Greenfield, who conducted the study. He’s an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “If that desire for a dopamine fix leads us to check our phones while we’re driving, a simple text can turn deadly.”

So, if we lack the self-discipline (or are simply too addicted) to stop ourselves from texting while driving, and citations and fines don’t deter us either, is it time for mobile device manufacturers and wireless companies to step in and prevent drivers from engaging in this dangerous behavior?

The Text-Blocking Technology That Can Save Lives

A recent New York Times article about a lawsuit against Apple brought to the public’s attention the following: Mobile device manufacturers and wireless companies already have existing technology that can prevent distracted driving on the road, but they’ve opted not to implement it. In fact, Apple’s patent for “lock-out mechanisms” was filed in 2008 and granted in 2014. SiliconBeat’s report on the patent states that “motion sensors and phone cameras could be used to identify when a person is in a moving car, and when they’re in the driver’s seat.” However, it is still unclear whether Apple has acted on the patent at all.

As far as we know, all text-blocking technology deployed has been optional. But, if the technology exists, should corporations like Apple go ahead and just launch it, taking away the decision (as well as the temptation) from drivers?

Our Twitter Poll Results: The People Have Spoken (Sort Of)

We reached out to the Twitterverse to get an idea of where people stand on this issue. The results are far from scientific. However, it was an interesting experiment to get a glimpse of what the public’s thoughts are on the issue.

Behind the scenes here at Quoted, we anticipated that more people would be for adopting technology that would prevent distracted driving across the board, and ultimately making our highways safer. After all, we’re constantly inundated with billboards, PSAs, and reminders by law enforcement that texting while driving is absolutely a dangerous idea.

Sure, there was some agreement.

But there’s also distrust of the technology itself.

And others were just unsure.

Where Do We Go From Here?

“If you’re at Apple or you’re at Samsung, do you want to be the first to block texting and driving?” David Teater tells the New York Times. “A customer might say, ‘If Apple does it, then my next phone is a Samsung.’” David Teater, formerly of the National Safety Council and now a private consultant on road safety, lost his own son to a distracted driver. Teater goes on to say that this is also just an excuse, “If Apple had deployed this technology 10 years ago, there would be more people alive today.”

What do you think? Should mobile device manufacturers deploy this text-blocking technology? Share your thoughts in the comments below.