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Focus on Regulation

U.S. leads world in distracted driving; governments, mobile carriers, tech companies searching for solutions

In a recent report on “distracted driving” in the United States and Europe, the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) found that the Americans talk, text, and read e-mail behind the wheel far more than Europeans.  In its study comparing distracting driving in the United States to Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom, the CDC found that 69% of American drivers reported talking on phone while driving in the past thirty days, while in Europe the share of drivers using their phone while behind the wheel ranged from 21% in the United Kingdom to 59% in Portugal.


American drivers also reported reading e-mail and sending text messages while driving (31%), more than drivers in European countries, with only Portuguese drivers matching their American counterparts.


The CDC noted that the problem of distracted driving has escalated in recent years, with the number of deaths in crashes involving a distracted driver rising from 2010 to 2011 and 387,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in 2011.

In response, states and the Federal government have acknowledged and worked to address the problem of distracting driving.  According to data compiled by the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving, nine states and D.C. have banned all non-hands free phone use by drivers, and some states have distracted driving laws that specifically address distracted driving by young and new drivers.  Additionally, the Federal government has prohibited federal employees from texting while driving for government business or using government equipment, and in 2010 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued rules prohibiting interstate commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been involved in the efforts to stop texting while driving.  Part of the FCC’s campaign includes an online clearinghouse of distracted driving information with educational materials and information, as well as links to technological solutions to the problem of distracted driving.  The FCC recently announced a Distracted Driving Technology Showcase scheduled for April 19 that will feature exhibits from various wireless carriers, technology companies, and state and local governments.

In addition to governmental efforts, mobile carriers and technology companies have also stepped up to find solutions that address the problem of distracted driving.  For instance, Sprint offers a service called Drive First.  For subscribers that opt in to Sprint Drive First, the service detects when a mobile device is in motion at over 10 MPH, and while the device is in motion, the service locks the device, directs calls to voicemail, silences phone notifications, and automatically responds to text messages. 

For corporate customers, companies like Aegis Mobility offer distracted driving solutions for organizations with corporate fleets, with services that enable organizations to block the ability of employees to make calls, text, or check e-mail while driving.  By adopting technologies that prevent employees from distracting driving behavior, companies are able to make their employees safer and more efficient behind the wheel while also reducing the likelihood of vicarious liability for motor vehicle accidents caused by distracted employees.

While distracted driving continues to be a dangerous problem on America’s roads, innovative commercial offerings together with pragmatic government policies have the potential to begin reducing the number of avoidable deaths, injuries and accidents caused by distracted driving.