The Distracted Driving Epidemic

I have a somewhat long commute. 30 minutes at best, 40 minutes average, and 4 hours at the worst. Even when there are no accidents to deal with, there are numerous distracted drivers. At least once a week (and I feel like lately it has become once a day), I encounter someone on their phone, reading papers, or just not watching the road.

I find it amazing that people can be hurtling down the road in a metal box -- which they control -- and assume they are invulnerable. I have even gone as far as getting next to someone on the freeway and honking until they acknowledged my presence. This oblivious-ness is a growing trend, even prompting a tweet from caltrans on the subject.

There are many ways to attack this sort of problem, and the car manufacturers are making great progress, but not at a quick enough pace. The trend seems to be moving toward larger and more capable smartphones, and more (increasingly shallow and trivial) social interaction via said phones.

The real solution is for drivers to take some responsibility for their actions -- at least until Google finishes their self-driving car.

The police are not omnipresent, and statistics show that teens are the most likely to get into accidents due to distracted driving and other risky behavior[1][2]. There needs to be some accountability for driving distracted, a pledge won't hold anyone accountable, and people already know they are doing something dangerous and don't seem to care.

I am not an iOS or android developer[3], so I can only propose a solution, not implement it. In that spirit, I propose an app with the following features.

  • If the phone is moving at >15mph speeds, introduce a lockscreen/change the background.
  • The lockscreen/background must contain a graphic image of car crashes[4].
    • If the user is the driver, it will remind them what can happen when they drive without paying complete attention to the road.
    • If the user is not the driver, this reminds them that they are in a car with someone who can be distracted. They will then enforce the no-distracted-driving rule more passionately.
    • If the phone is moving at >150mph speeds, disable the app functionality, as the phone is most likely on an airplane.
    • Ideally, the images will change frequently. Nothing breeds complacency like familiarity.
  • Under no circumstances must the basic functionality of a phone be removed, as that will drive users to uninstall the app.
  • Under no circumstances must the app be sold or bundled as a "value-added feature" as that will remove incentive to use said app (Verizon, I am glaring at you; don't charge for safety features, you don't profit from the death of your users).
  • Only with full adoption by carriers and phone manufacturers (Apple, I am glaring at you; open your API or implement this) will this app be successful. I mean mandatory installation, and no way to turn it off.

In order to impliment this app, there needs to be a source of free, high quality images depecting the aftermath of car crashes. I don't know if there is such a source, but I imagine that law enforcement would gladly furnish images if it helped to save lives.

At the end of the day, we are trading a small amount of personal freedom for safety and security. I do feel that personal freedom is of utmost importance, but your personal freedom ends where your neighbor's begins. Driving is a privilege, not a right. It is not protected by the constitution. We are all driving on roadways owned by the state/government. The least we can do is reduce the number of accidents so that our governments can use their budget for bigger and better things.

If you are reading this and want to take action, please let me know. You can send me an email at <my first name>@<this blog url>, tweet at me, send me a message on G+, join the discussion below, or simply link to this post.

UPDATE -- April 2016

A helpful reader pointed me towards this infographic, compiled with data gathered from quite a few sources. As expected, this problem has not gone away and is in fact getting worse.

Tesla has promised to include its autopilot hardware in the model 3, which is a fantastic step forward, but it will still not ship until the end of 2017[5].


1. ^ teen driving statistics: For both men and women, drivers aged 16 to 19 years of age have the highest average annual crash and traffic violation rates of any other age group.
2. ^ distracted driving statistics: 10% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
3. ^ I can figure it out but I have other responsibilities, and people with iOS/Android experience would create a much better app.
4. ^ red asphalt comes to mind.
5. ^ Model 3 specs for those of you living under a rock. Also, hardware is listed, but software is not. Upcharges anyone?