Is Technology the Cause of Car Crashes? Or the Cure?

Computerworld — I totaled my car when I was 16.Here’s what happened: It was the middle of the day, and I was listening to the car radio while driving. I started fiddling with the radio while I headed toward an intersection with a green light. The second I looked down at the radio, the light changed. By the time I looked up, I was sailing into the intersection. My car smashed into a brand-new Cadillac crossing from my right. Upon impact, both cars slid toward a corner, pinning a third car against the curb.

Why It Should be Illegal to Use Google Glass While Driving ]

I was lucky. Nobody was hurt. Insurance paid for everything. But I learned a lesson that would keep me from ever getting into another car accident: Distracted drivers are dangerous.

So let’s ban gadgets for drivers, right?

Movie maker Werner Herzog made a documentary about the dangers of texting while driving called From One Second to the Next. In the film, Werner cites the National Safety Council’s figure that texting while driving causes 100,000 accidents per year.

For that claim to be true, it would also have to be true that 100,000 accidents have been added to the total number of accidents that have occurred for other reasons. Looking from that perspective, it’s a harder argument to make — since 1996, accident rates in the U.S. have gone down from one year to the next every year except two.

So as first mobile phone use and then texting on mobile phones grew more common, the number of accidents in the United States went down. Where are those extra 100,000 accidents? They’re hard to find in the overall statistics.

It seems possible to me that it’s the distracted drivers (like the 16-year-old me) that cause accidents; the accidents are not caused by whatever object it is that distracts those drivers. In other words, yes: Distraction by text messaging causes accidents, but those same distracted drivers would probably find something else to be distracted by if they weren’t texting.

I’ve seen people texting while driving. But I’ve also seen people reading the newspaper, putting on makeup, eating food, poking at GPS devices, arguing with passengers, reaching into the back seat to interact with children, lighting cigarettes and so on.

Drivers who do those things are careless about attention, don’t understand the risks or simply don’t care.

I think making laws that minimize accidents caused by distracted drivers is a good idea. However, I’m bothered by an obvious bias against technology. It seems like the more advanced the technology, the stronger the bias. And this bias itself might be dangerous.

Continue Reading


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