We all know we should never drive drunk, but one in three Americans admit to doing something as dangerous: texting and driving.
Today, we rely on our mobile devices to check e-mail, to stay in touch with friends, and to check the latest news or sports scores. We use mobile apps to monitor our health, advance our education and manage smart appliances. These mobile marvels create new opportunities. But they also create new challenges, and texting and driving is one of them.
People who drive while texting are 23 times more likely to have an accident than a non-distracted driver. More than 3,900 people lost their lives in 2010 as a result of distracted driving. More than 400 lives were lost as a result of crashes involving teen drivers who were distracted. More than half (55%) of those killed were teens themselves. And 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.
Texting behind the wheel could be more dangerous than driving drunk. In test settings, drunken drivers had faster response times then did drivers who were reading and sending texts.
Who has a role?
Individuals, companies and government all have a role to play. What can be done?
First, we need to change the laws. During the Obama administration, the number of states with distracted-driving laws has more than doubled, from 18 states in 2009 to 39 today. The remaining 11 states should act quickly to make it unanimous.
At the FCC, we’re leading by example. Consistent with President Obama’s executive order on federal employees, we’ve made it official agency policy to prohibit employees from texting while driving on the job and when using government vehicles.
Second, a problem born from technology requires technological solutions. Wireless carriers, handset designers, software developers and car manufacturers are developing technological tools and services to make our roads safer.
Quick facts: New apps help
New apps block texting or Web surfing when the phone is in motion. Services such as Apple’s Siri allow drivers to dictate and send messages using voice commands. AT&T has a new mobile application called “DriveMode” that prevents incoming telephone calls or text messaging while driving, at the same time sending auto-reply notifications to anyone trying to contact the driver. Sprint and T-Mobile also offer services that automatically disable text messaging when a cellphone is moving at car-like speeds.
Third, we need social norms to change. Texting and driving must become as unacceptable as drunken driving. Changing social norms starts with public education. The FCC and other government agencies, as well as wireless carriers, have been working to educate the public about the dangers of texting and driving.
A growing number of drivers are getting the message. An encouraging new trend among some teen drivers is having a “designated texter” in the vehicle when they go out.
We need to tackle texting and driving with the same urgency that we gave to the problem of drunken driving. Since the 1980s, the number of U.S. drunken-driving deaths has been cut in half. It’s time to do the same for texting and driving.
Julius Genachowski is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.