Technology is the Answer to Stop Distracted Driving

Distracted driving kills thousands of people each year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 2015 fatalities attributable to distracted driving increased on a percentage basis faster than those caused by drunk driving, speeding, or failing to wear seat belts.

Yet, texting and driving is far from unusual.  A staggering 49 percent of adults admit to texting and driving, even though 98 percent of adults say they know the practice is unsafe.

Here are some shocking facts:

  • The probability that a motor vehicle crash involves a cell phone is 1 in 4.
  • Using a cellphone while driving increases the risk of a crash 4 times.

It may sound ironic, but technology, which contributed to the problems related to distracted driving, may also be the ultimate solution.

There are now a number of ways to help you prevent using your phone while driving.

One way to do it is to block your phone from receiving all data while driving. This simply puts you to stop using it, if you are behind the wheel. Products like Groove by Katasi or Drive ID by Cellcontrol are devices that block all emails, texts and social networking updates and prevent you from sending messages and posting on social media while driving.

Scientists are also working on developing solutions to stop distracted driving. A team at the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence has developed software that can determine when drivers are texting or otherwise distracted. If the system’s adequately alarmed, the car can give the driver an audio or visual warning. In the near future, depending on how autonomous tech advances, the car could even take over control.

But how practical are these solutions? We live in times, when we became inseparable from our smartphones – be it social networks or using many useful apps. Only 23% of drivers said they would deactivate the technologies. We don’t expect people to suddenly develop self-discipline, right?

The most practical answer to distracted driving today may be the one that lets you use your cellphone, yet drive safely. This technology is head-up displays (HUDs). It’s commonly agreed that the whole reason for head-up displays is to help with driver distraction. You reduce the tilting of the head by 20 degrees, which is what’s required to look at an instrument cluster. And you don’t need to refocus back on the road.

Head-up displays have been used by drivers for many decades. Exclusivity of these devices has, however, limited most people from owning and experiencing one. For decades, HUDs have been available as an add-on option for the new car buyers, costing thousands of dollars, and the aftermarket devices, available to general public, have not come to the market until a few years ago.

There are many cheap head-up displays (most are made in China and many times are not patented) available online today, such as Red Shield Universal HUD, BZseed, HaloVA, Frerush, Techstick or Dewhel. You can easily buy one for $9.99 on Amazon. They are either sold as a clear film attaching to your windshield or as a passive device with a reflective panel and a friction pad, where you place your smartphone. However, the obvious limitation of these budget HUDs is that, because most modern windshields use a type of polarized glass, the image gets split into two and in daytime it would seem dim, fuzzy and, in direct sun, may disappear altogether. Another obvious limitation of these HUDs is the preset display, which means the visual gauges are grossly simplified.

New generation HUDs are an active technology. Not only they project all the data, otherwise available on a dashboard (speed, gas meter, etc.), but they can also point out threats even before they materialize, preventing dangerous driving situations from ever developing. Many navigation apps provide important to the driver information and feed it to the display (the proximity of the gas stations, road congestions, accidents, etc.), so the driver doesn’t need to hand held the smartphone to get informed. The devices, worth mentioning in this category, come from HUDWAY, Hudly, Exploride, and Carloudy. One of the most promising aftermarket HUD producers in this category, Navdy, has, unfortunately, just recently announced its liquidation.

Although, they cost substantially more than the budget HUDs (starting, at $259), these new generation HUDs are most definitely a step ahead to keep you protected from distracted driving. Not only they solve the limitations of the cheaper HUDs, but, like HUDWAY Cast, for example, they let you keep your phone within reach and have it act as a remote control for your HUD. The Cast’s user interface has been specifically designed to keep your attention on the road (visual gauges are superb, and the voice control feature allows you to navigate and use your smartphone hands-free). Like Google’s Android Auto, HUDWAY Cast opens up seemingly limitless possibilities as anything on the smartphone can be projected in front of the driver, things like navigation, music, and phone calls. But, in addition to that, Cast’s display keeps your navigation in your eyesight, regardless what you are doing with your smartphone. You can answer your phone calls, hands-free, yet, the road directions are always in the foreground.

To skeptics, head-up displays are yet another informational distraction for the already data-overloaded driver. Agreed, in the (not so far away) future of autonomous vehicles, you could use your phone all you want, but we’re a little ways away from that. But before self-driving cars arrive, we have to deal with the fact that people are texting, tweeting, and all things smartphoning at the wheel.

So for now, the immediately available solution to stop driving while distracted may be the technology that lets drivers use their smartphones, but removes the need to take their eyes off road.

Svetlana Stepanova, MBA, is a freelance content producer and blogger, previously engaged with NPR and NPR Berlin 104.1 FM, who now enjoys enlightening audiences about new tech and inspiring lifestyle.

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