Imagine a natural disaster swept through Kentucky and killed more than 830 people. It would likely be deemed a state and federal disaster. People would panic. News organizations would stream live coverage for weeks or longer, parsing every detail of what happened and how we could have prevented such a tragedy.
Yet, this is what is happening with distracted driving in Louisville and throughout Kentucky, where 834 people were killed in distracted driving accidents last year. That was 73 more deaths than just a year earlier, and it breaks down to more than 2 people every single day in this state. More than 220 have died already this year, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. But for the most part, it seems the public goes on about their business, ignoring these daily tragedies.
In some states, legislators and technology firms are beginning the process of creating and adopting the use of a device that can quickly identify when a driver has operated a vehicle while distracted by their smartphone (largely agreed to be the most significant distraction for drivers). It's called the Textalyzer, and according to the New York Times, it would give officers the ability to test an electronic device on the spot to see if the motorist has been clicking, tapping, or swiping when they are supposed to be paying strict attention to the road.
One bill pending in New York would require people to hand over their phones if suspected of distracted driving, or else risk running afoul of implied consent laws (similar to what is in place for refusal to submit to a breathalyzer).
While opponents have voiced privacy concerns, proponents insist the devices won't give officers access to any of the data. For example, the device would indicate the driver sent a text — and give a time stamp — but it would not reveal the contents of that text.
Kentucky Revised Statute 189.292 states that use of a personal communication device is prohibited while one is operating a motor vehicle that is in motion on a traveled portion of the road. The provision doesn't apply to GPS systems or reading, selecting or entering a phone number for the purpose of making a phone call. The law became effective June 8, 2011 — one of the first states in the country to pass such a measure. That year, according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 35 percent of people had cell phones. Today, about 77 percent have cell phones, a figure that's up to 92 percent with the under-29 crowd.
Distraction is being cited as one of the main reasons we're seeing an increase in fatal car accidents in Louisville and throughout the U.S. for the first time in decades. That revelation comes at a time when vehicle technology has made cars safer than ever and streets are increasingly being engineered with lower speed limits and more crosswalks. Our traffic fatality rate should be going down, but it isn't. This is an issue that may take some time and creativity to address, and we should make addressing it a priority.