STOP THE TEXTS. STOP THE WRECKS. An Important New Campaign

May 1, 2012

Today the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Ad Council have launched a new campaign to discourage teens – and all drivers – from texting while driving. This campaign, and those like it, are vital elements in reducing the number of tragic deaths and injuries caused by distracted drivers.

However, campaigns alone will not solve the problem. Stiffer fines, laws, and penalties will not alone solve the problem. What we need is a cultural shift making texting while driving an unacceptable behavior, and for that to happen every single person has a clear role to play. Please play your role.

Here are some of the resources made available to consumers through this STOP THE TEXTS. STOP THE WRECKS. campaign:

  • Facts sheet – with 30 sobering facts, here’s a sample
  • Survey results
  • Videos – 4 videos that help illustrate how quickly distraction leads to disaster
  • Infographic – see below

This campaign has partnered with the U.S Department of Transportation who created the excellent materials.


Also check out the following blogs:





New Online Safety Lesson: Texting and Driving Don’t Mix

April 19, 2012

The 15th installment in the lesson series I’m writing on behalf of iKeepSafe, looks at distracted driving. Would you let someone cover your eyes for two seconds while you were driving? No way.

But teens will be surprised to learn that if they are on the freeway going 65 mph, a quick two-second glance to read a text means they have driven nearly two-thirds of a football field without looking. And those precious seconds can kill them, their passengers or the people in other vehicles.

More than 3,000 people died, and thousands more were injured, due to distracted driving in 2010 alone.

This lesson discusses eye-opening statistics on the perils of distracted driving and alerts teens to the hazards of looking away from the road, plus offers tips for avoiding the temptation of phone use while driving.

To see and use this lesson, the companion presentation, professional development materials, and parent tips click here: TXT + DRV = Total Fail.


NTSB Recommends Ban on All Non-Emergency Use of Mobile Devices

December 14, 2011

A ban on the use of all mobile devices by drivers except in emergencies has just been recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Their decision is based on investigations into distraction-related accidents for the past decade where electronic distraction has played an increasing role, combined with escalating concerns about the increasing capabilities of mobile devices that will give rise to even more distractions.  “Every year, new devices are being released. People are tempted to update their Facebook page, they are tempted to tweet, as if sitting at a desk. But they are driving a car” said Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of NTSB, who added It’s going to be very unpopular with some people. “We’re not here to win a popularity contest. We’re here to do the right thing. This is a difficult recommendation, but it’s the right recommendation and it’s time.”

Here is an excerpt from the NTSB’s recommendation:

To the 50 states and the District of Columbia:

(1) Ban the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices (other than those designed to support the driving task) for all drivers; (2) use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration model of high visibility enforcement to support these bans; and (3) implement targeted communication campaigns to inform motorists of the new law and enforcement, and to warn them of the dangers associated with the nonemergency use of portable electronic devices while driving.

To put this recommendation in perspective, I wrote in my blog on Dec. 13th that In Spite of Risks, More Drivers Text than Ever Before that texting while driving increased 50% from 2009 to 2010 according to the newly released annual National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study, and that consumer phone use while driving doesn’t end there. Consumers are also reading and typing email, watching video, playing games, using their GPS maps to navigate, and browsing the Internet.

In fact, in another study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, 100 drivers were continually observed for a full year. The results found that drivers were distracted between one-quarter and one-half of the time.

Responding to the NTSB’s recommendation, the Wireless Association (CTIA)  issued a statement saying it agrees that distracted driving is a dangerous problem  and the group supports a ban on “manual texting” while driving, but would defer to state and local lawmakers when it comes to talking on wireless devices while driving.

Would it kill you to put down that cell phone while driving? No…. But failing to put it down just might.


In Spite of Risks, More Drivers Text than Ever Before

December 13, 2011

Texting while driving increased 50% from 2009 to 2010 according to the newly released annual National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study. That’s in spite of legislation in 35 states that restrict or ban cell phone use while driving.

And our phone use doesn’t stop there. Consumers are also reading and typing email, watching video, playing games, using their GPS maps to navigate, and browsing the Internet.

Our increased cell phone use comes on top of the non-technology related array of distractions like eating and drinking, smoking, personal grooming, reading, fiddling with the radio or CD’s, and talking to passengers and the stats aren’t pretty.

In a study released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, 100 drivers were continually observed for a full year. The results found that drivers were distracted between one-quarter and one-half of the time. How is distracted driving defined? The study breaks down four types of driver distraction:

  • Visual – looking at something other than the road
  • Auditory – hearing something not related to driving
  • Manual – manipulating something other than the wheel
  • Cognitive – thinking about something other than driving

Now add winter road conditions and general holiday mayhem, and the risks of multitasking while driving – or being hit by someone who is multitasking while driving are likely to be sharply increased.

Play it safe this winter.

Learn more about cell phone risks when driving in these blogs:


Consumer Reports Study; Young Adults, Cars, and Phones a Deadly Mix

March 23, 2011

April’s Consumer Reports’ Magazine shows the results of a new nationwide survey on distracted driving and the results are once again sobering.

The study, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found that “almost two-thirds of the survey respondents had seen drivers in other vehicles texting on a cell phone or other mobile device, just in the previous 30 days. Almost all—94 percent—had observed motorists talking on a handheld phone. In the same period, more than half had seen a dangerous situation that was related to a distracted driver.”

To be clear, the term ‘distracted driving’ includes any behavior that make the driver take their focus off of the road, not just those that aren’t cell phone related, but the use of cell phones while driving has dramatically increased the number of distracted driving accidents. In 2009, the most recent year with available data, cell phones were involved in 18% of the 5,474 deaths, and people killed in fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone according to the Department of Transportation.

Teens are the worst offenders, but adults set poor example

Among survey respondents under 30 years old, 63% reported using a handheld phone while driving within the previous 30 days and almost 33% had texted while driving. This compares to 41% and 9% respectively, of respondents who are 30 or older.

Just how distracting interacting with cell phones can be has been documented in several studies; in addition to the Department of Transportation’s data, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found the increase in texting while driving is estimated to have caused more than 16,000 additional road fatalities between 2001- 2007. And a report released by National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and The Allstate Foundation in 2009 found that despite the recognition of the danger, 83% of teenagers admit that they talk on a cell phone while driving and 68% admit to texting while driving.

The Consumer Reports’ study also found that though 90% of their total survey respondents felt that texting while driving is very dangerous, and nearly 50% considered using a handheld phone very dangerous, almost a quarter of all respondents reported that it hasn’t led them to reduce or stop such behavior.

Increasing awareness and changing behaviors

Sobering as the report’s finding of nearly 25% of users not changing behavior, the flip side is that 78% of respondents said they had reduced or stopped behaviors related to distracted driving. This list shows what factors were most influential.

Additionally, when researchers asked teens to share ideas about what could be done to reduce distracted driving they received some clear feedback:

  • “Make it safe and acceptable to pull over to do such tasks.”
  • “Stiffer penalties, parents applying consequences for minors, and more education/awareness programs.”
  • “Adults don’t discipline like it’s a problem; parents are blind to it. They tell us do not drink and drive, but don’t say do not use the phone.”
  • “I think that apps … that prohibit a user from receiving or sending text messages while traveling over 10 mph are very helpful and should be more widely used.”
  • “Parents should let us kids have a Bluetooth headset so we wouldn’t be tempted to use our phones and take a hand off the steering wheel.”
  • “I know that my friend texts a lot while she’s driving, but whenever I’m in her car, I make her give me the phone and tell me what she wants me to write. …Peer pressure is such a powerful force when you have it in your corner.”

In addition to using technology to help reduce cell phone related distractions, I recommend that you spend time with any teens you parent or work with on the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation’s Distractology 101 Learning Challenge site. Their learning challenge is a real wake-up notice to users as they discover how much focus they lose when attempting to multi-task behind the wheel.

See more of my blogs on distracted driving:

Additional resources:

Together we can reshape attitudes and risky behaviors of cell phone users in cars.


Facebook Updates While Driving? C’mon!

September 16, 2010

General Motors’ OnStar division has developed a system that provides drivers the ability to record audio updates that could be posted to a user’s Facebook page. The system would also allow drivers to hear their friends’ status updates read to them by a computerized voice. OnStar says the idea reflects society’s growing desire to be connected at all times.
What could possibly be so urgent to post or read on Facebook that it would require a driver’s immediate attention?

Research from the University of Utah found that distraction from cell phone use while driving (hand held or hands free) extends a driver’s reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. I’d need to see some hard data to convince me that the distraction level wouldn’t be similar for those listening to posts or adding their own posts on a Facebook page.

As late as last week, OnStar was apparently still deciding whether it will make this service available to drivers or not. “The company will not implement a new service simply because it’s technically feasible, it has to be the right thing to do for the customer,” OnStar said. “All of our technologies are rigorously evaluated prior to launch.”

Company president Chris Preuss says OnStar has data showing there is no correlation between pushing a single button and vehicle crashes, and justifies the service by saying people will continue to send text messages in cars and update Facebook statuses from their phones, so the company decided to let them do it “with safety in mind”. “I don’t think we’re at all engaging in activities that are going to make it worse,” he said. “We’re absolutely engaging in activities that will make things better.”

If we accept the argument of ‘people will do it anyway’, why don’t we apply it to speeding, drinking while driving, and drag racing on residential streets? Why not enable drivers to take these dangerous actions – ‘with safety in mind’?

I get OnStar’s motivation – if nothing else, the deployment of this service should boost their core business of responding to accidents.

GM isn’t alone

GM isn’t the only auto manufacturer going down the distraction path. Ford Motor Co.’s Sync system, available in 2011 Ford and Lincoln models, is very similar. Besides allowing drivers to hear and reply to text messages, Ford’s system also allows drivers to interact with cell phone apps for things like Internet radio and Twitter.

Opponents of these technologies point to the existing body of evidence to say these systems will lead to greater driver distraction, but Ford has a different point of view. They believe that systems like these allow drivers to do things they’re already doing anyway, such as checking text messages, while keeping their eyes on the road.

Ford spokesman Alan Hall said, “Our research has shown that the most dangerous part of having these devices in your car is when they take your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.”

That flies in the face of the information on the U.S. Department of Transportation website. Distracted driving is defined as “any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing.

The site goes on to say there are three main types of distraction:

  • Visual — taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual — taking your hands off the wheel
  • Cognitive — taking your mind off what you’re doing

Hmm. Does Facebooking while driving qualify as a distraction under this definition?

Following OnStar and Ford’s assertion, your eyes and hand would only have to be off the road for a tiny moment – and we don’t hear recommendations urging a ban on pushing a button to change your radio station….  But there’s that last pesky cognitive point about taking your mind off driving and focusing attention on Facebook, that’s the deal breaker.

To learn more about distracted driving, see my blog post Distracted Driving? Take the Distractology 101 Learning Challenge.

And that’s not all

GM’s OnStar team is also testing a system which would allow drivers to hear text messages read to them by the “OnStar Virtual Advisor” computerized voice. By pressing a button on the steering wheel, drivers would also be able to reply using one of four pre-written responses.

The only message your car should be sharing with you is “keep your focus on the road”.


WebSafety’s CellSafety Product Review

August 31, 2010

I’ve had several consumers ask me recently about the company WebSafety and their new mobile phone product CellSafety. Here are my thoughts:

Company Impression:  problematic credibility

WebSafety’s development team has a strong law enforcement and prosecutorial background. This is both a strength and a weakness. While they’ve been ‘in the trenches’ to know the issues, their solutions are heavy handed.

To be clear, any company in the business of providing protection services to consumers has to first overcome one hurdle – convincing people that they need protection.  However, how a company goes about making that business case can vary dramatically.

WebSafety’s mission statement makes it clear from the start that they’ve chosen to go the fear and sensationalism route and it shoots their credibility to pieces right from their home page. “To enable parents to protect their children from the dangerous cellular and online worlds through advanced software systems.”

Neither the cellular nor the online worlds are dangerous; instead some elements within these have risks, and those risks range from low to high probability of occurrence and low to high potential consequences.

Our jobs as individuals and parents is to assess these risks as they relate to our own, or our children’s, unique circumstances and take appropriate measures. Fear messaging makes choosing appropriate measures more, rather than less, complicated and these messages therefore do more harm than good.

The CellSafety Product:

I am concerned about the lack of real information about the company’s CellSafety product. Beyond their dropdown bullet points (shown below), I can’t find any information that let’s me understand how these services work, what level of management I have over each feature, what level of transparency about the monitoring is provided to youth (and, keep in mind these could be used against a spouse, an ex- or other person as easily as against a child) – or even what “AND MUCH MORE…..” is.  There is no material about discussing safe texting with kids, or any educational material whatsoever.

Particular points of concern:

Their CellSafety Product: In a press release, CellSafety said it “uses proprietary technology to electronically detect when a car is moving at speeds above 10mph and prohibits the driver’s ability to send or read text and email messages or utilize the phone web browser.” In their bullet list they say “passengers can ask parents for permission!” presumably to override the automatic blocking of passengers ability to text, as all that can be detected by their product is that a phone is in a moving car, not whether the person trying to text is the driver.

  • What about legitimate cases where the passenger is using the driver’s phone? Blocking that could put the users at risk.
  • What stops the driver from using a passengers unblocked phone?
  • What happens if the passenger can’t contact their parent to get permission?

CellSafety also claims they can “ensure that a driver’s eyes are on the road and off their phone”. Really?

  • People play games on their phones while driving
  • People dial numbers when driving
  • People surf and read email when driving.

No outside element can ensure where the driver’s eyes are – or aren’t. And while I’m strongly against texting while driving, (see below for  blogs I’ve written on this topic) I think we’ve lost sight that ANY form of distracted driving is wrong. Should we get an product that will stop someone from applying mascara while driving, shaving while driving, yelling at kids in the back seat while driving, or being drunk off their rocker while driving?

The company mixes statistics in a manner that is sloppy, and misleading. In the same press release about their CellSafety product designed to block texting while driving, WebSafety states that “Distracted driving is one of the most serious, life-threatening practices on our nation’s roadways with almost 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occurring daily in the United States.” I assume this is a true statement, but that is not a statistic about texting while driving – the problem they propose to solve – it’s a statistic about ALL distracted driving.

This statistical blurring continues with their CEO Rowland Day stating “Consumers mistakenly believe they will not be the victim of, or responsible for, a distracted driving incident which is why the CellSafety application is so vital in order to stop the deadly social obsession of texting-while-driving.” Again, the implication is that all distracted driving is texting when driving, and we all know that isn’t the case.

The CellSafety mobile application also includes additional features which inhibit texting in school via “No Texting Zones” in order to prevent scholastic cheating as well as notifications in real-time if users are sending or receiving inappropriate text messages.” There is nothing wrong with a kid texting while at school; in fact there are very legitimate reasons for doing so. Cheating is wrong. Texting when you should be participating is wrong. But texting during lunch? Texting your mother about after school plans? Getting a text from your father about where he’s going to pick you up from? Sending your mom a reminder to bring your soccer shoes?

What I see is a product that is more designed to ‘catch’ than to educate kids. That hasn’t gotten past the sledgehammer approach to blocking, filtering and reporting to design meaningful services that create constructive, collaborative safety environments for families.

I think the intent behind the company and their services is good, the execution is lacking.

Additional blog posts on Texting and Driving: