The Automobile Club of Southern California joined law enforcerment and a man injured in a severe distracted driving crash to push for drivers to get off their smartphones when behind the wheel. The group also encouraged drivers to learn how to use Driving Focus features on smartphones, which are designed to prevent incoming calls and texts while a vehicle is in motion. This effort comes at the start of April’s National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities in distracted driving crashes increased by 12% from 3,154 in 2020 to 3,522 in 2021, a total of 8.2% of all fatalities reported. Even with these high numbers, distraction is likely underreported because the behavior is difficult to detect during crash investigations, and police reports likely understate its incidence. According to the California Highway Patrol, there have been nearly 28,000 crashes since the start of 2021 that involved inattention behind the wheel, which resulted in 185 deaths and 19,883 serious injuries in California alone.
“Using a smartphone behind the wheel is a threat to everyone who uses our roadways,” said Auto Club Corporate Communications Manger Doug Shupe. “Even though it is against the law to hold a smartphone in your hand while driving in the Golden State, we recently drove around Southern California during a two-day period and saw hundreds of drivers using smartphones while behind the wheel, and often they were traveling at freeway speeds and taking their eyes off the road for up to 5 seconds at a time.”
Driving 55 miles per hour, taking your eyes off the road for five seconds is like traveling the length of a football field blindfolded. Law enforcement officers watch out for distracted drivers on roadways, but they can’t be everywhere to catch every violation.
That's why the Auto Club continues a campaign it began in 2018 to increase the social stigma of using a smartphone while driving, like the stigma that exists with alcohol-impaired driving. As part of the campaign called, “Don’t Drive Intoxciated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.,” AAA market researchers conducted a survey of drivers nationwide about their knowledge of and use of Driving Focus features, which are smartphone apps that use sensors and proximity to known network connections to detect driving. The apps generally work when the vehicles are in motion and can silence the phone, redirect incoming calls to voicemails or respond to text message with a preprogrammed message. However, users must opt in to activate the apps.
The AAA survey found even though 81% of drivers across the U.S. are aware of Driving Focus features on their phones, 54% have never used the features. The survey also found that of those who are aware of the Driving Focus features, the biggest users are people 18 to 29-years- old who say they usually or sometimes use it while driving (59%).
Among all drivers who DO NOT enable the Driving Focus features while driving, the primary reasons they gave for not using them are:
• Able to ignore my smartphone while driving
• Use Bluetoooth if I need to answer a call
• Don’t think to turn it on
• Need to be reachable in case of an emergency (kids, family, work, etc.)
However, the latest Driving Focus (iPhones) and Drive Focus (Android) features on smartphones do address many drivers’ concerns. These newer features will:
• Automatically enable when connected to vehicle’s Bluetooth
• Allow repeat calls to be received (in emergencies)
• Set contact exemption rules allowing calls/texts from select contacts in your phonebook
• Allow all messages/calls but only allow interaction via Bluetooth
The Driving Focus features could have prevented a crash that nearly killed Los Angeles resident Jim Jones. Jones was walking near his former Napa Valley home in 2013 when a 19-year-old man, who admitted to using his phone to talk with his girlfriend, hit Jones and caused him to go airborne, land on his head, be dragged at least 30 feet, and suffer a traumatic brain injury.
"I had to learn how to walk again, learn how to eat again, and in fact, I still don't eat in public because eating is very awkward for me," said Jones.
The crash, which happened four months before his daughter's wedding, not only impacted him but his entire family. They were told at one point that he would not survive.
"When I was recovering, I was conscious but in that world where I could not focus on what was going on. As I became more conscious, I realized I was going to walk my daughter down that aisle. There was no doubt about it," said Jones.
To stay focused behind the wheel and prevent driving "intexticated," the Auto Club recommends you:
- Use the Driving Focus features on your smartphone.
- Pull over if you have to call or text someone.
- Speak up if the driver of your vehicle is distracted.
- Put it away. Place your mobile device out of sight to prevent temptation.
- Know where you’re going. If using GPS, program the destination before driving.
- Ask passengers for help. If with someone, ask for help to navigate, make a call or text.
- Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting others when you know they are driving.
For more information about the Auto Club’s “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.” campaign visit AAA.com/DontDriveDistracted to read real stories of lives impacted by distracted driving, watch PSAs, and view a distracted driving documentary called “Sidetracked.”