Perhaps you’ve been walking through a parking lot to look up and realize that a car that should have yielded is not stopping. When you stare in disbelief, you realize the driver has no idea what’s going on — they’re on their phone texting. Both their hands and eyes are otherwise preoccupied.
While you noticed this lack of awareness, not everyone does. Had someone been texting and walking, they might’ve been involved in an auto/pedestrian accident.
According to Zero Fatalities, 25% of car crashes in Utah involve distracted drivers. It takes 4.6 seconds for a driver to look away from the road to send or read a text message — which can equate to about the length of a football field if you’re driving 60 mph. A lot can happen in 4.6 seconds.
It’s easy to say, “I never text and drive, but I really need to this one time,” or “It will be quick, I just need to know where we’re meeting.” It’s even easier to make these excuses when you’ve already done it a few times with no consequences. But you can ask anyone who’s been in a distracted driving accident — all it takes is one text.
While it might seem easy to just put the phone on the seat, it’s not always so. With a smartwatch, you’re notified of alerts on your phone without even looking at the screen. Sometimes, the instinctual response to a notification is to clear it or look at it — you don’t even realize you’re doing this.
According to Harvard University, the dopamine rush you get when you check your smartphone is the reason for this repeated behavior. Humans are biologically wired to repeat behaviors that induce this chemical reaction in the brain — no wonder it’s so hard to leave the phone alone.
Recognizing the driving force behind these impulses, it’s imperative that society do more to keep the phone down until the car is in park. These are a few incentives for doing so and a few ways to enforce smart driving behaviors.
Get paid to not text and drive
Yes, it’s a real thing. The apps OnMyWay: Drive Safe and SafeDrive are just a couple of apps that offer rewards — sometimes even cash — for you to drive safely. All you have to do is open the app before you start driving and keep your phone locked while you drive. It will begin marking the points as you travel. The points you earn go toward discounts and coupons from participating stores.
Apps offer local rewards
The Motovate app is an incentive-based design that encourages users to put their devices into a do not disturb mode while they’re driving. Based on your location, you can use the built-up points to cash in for local products or services after a period of time.
Some insurance carriers claim to give safe drivers discounts and more. Root car insurance says they can measure your distracted driving behaviors through their app on your smartphone. If you are deemed a safe, focused driver, you can get a discount on your auto insurance quote.
Additionally, if you are pulled over in Utah for texting while driving, this can negatively affect your driving record, causing your insurance premiums to increase.
Make it impossible
Obviously, if you have iron-clad self-control, you should keep the phone at arm’s length until you can pull over. This way you won’t have to worry about someone running into you (or you running into anyone else). You can commit all of your attention to your phone before getting back on the road.
It’s important that you pull over in a safe place, though, as pulling off on the freeway shoulder might not be the easiest place to stop and reemerge back into traffic. It’s safer to exit on the nearest ramp and pull over in a parking lot or on side street.
Have a designated passenger
Just like it’s wise to use a designated driver to avoid drunk driving, it’s also wise to use a designated passenger to avoid texting and driving. Hand your phone to your passenger and ask her to read, text and call for you so you can concentrate on getting yourself and everyone in the car to your destination safely. Make sure it’s someone who understands the gravity of distracted driving and won’t let you see your phone or give it to you when you’re driving.
Download an app
There are many driving apps to choose from that disable texting, calls and emails while driving. Not only that, but some also send an automated response to those who tried to contact you, letting them know you’re driving and will get back to them as soon as you can.
Apps like LifeSaver block phone calls, texts and any usage of the phone while the user is driving. Once you arrive at your destination or park, you can unlock your phone and use it normally. Parents even have the option of tracking their teen drivers and getting a notification that they arrived safely after driving. They can also be notified if someone in their family plan has turned off the LifeSaver block while driving.
There are many apps out there with different options and limitations, so be sure to research what apps work best for your situation and devices.
Throw it out
Okay, don’t really throw your phone out. But try putting your phone where you can’t reach it (the trunk, glove box, back seat, a purse). If you can’t reach your phone, you physically can’t be distracted by it. Putting your phone out of sight and out of mind can help with easing that sense of obligation or habit.
Turn it off
If you don’t want to install an app, make use of the settings already on your phone. Turn your phone off, turn it to silent, turn it on airplane mode or set it to do not disturb mode. Iphones have an option called “Do Not Disturb While Driving” that you can self-activate. There are so many built-in options on your device to help you drive safely.
Once you set it to the mode you want, put your phone face-down on the seat next to you so you’re not distracted by the screen. You can always check your notifications after you put your car in park.
While it might be difficult at first to retrain your brain to ignore the ping of notifications, it can literally pay off. Learn more about distracted driving at the Robert J. Debry website.
* Robert DeBry is retired from the practice of law