Legislation Encourages Safer Driving Through Technology

Beginning in January 2012, commercial drivers are prohibited from use of hand-held cellphones and new requirements are going into place concerning texting while driving – and new vehicle technology is actually helping all drivers to drive more safely.

A joint rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the latest action endorsed by the U.S. Department of Transportation that aims to end distracted driving. This federal ban on cell phone took effect January 3, 2012. Legislators from many states are trying to get these laws extended to all drivers in all states.

In recent months major truck and bus companies, such as Greyhound, Wal-Mart, UPS, Conoco-Phillips and others, have changed their policies to ban their drivers from using hand-held cell phones, to make and receive phone calls, or for texting. In other words, talk or text on a cellphone while driving and you could lose your job.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research in 2009 more than 5,400 people died and a half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. The NHTSA also noted that distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of the overall traffic fatalities in 2009.

In the past few years, most automobile companies have been developing in-vehicle technology so they can offer Bluetooth hands-free in-vehicle communications. The whole idea is to keep the driver’s eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. Although an option for most vehicles, more and more drivers are demanding it from their vehicles.

Ford Motor Company goes further by having an app (911 Assist) that assists emergency personnel. Their hands-free infotainment system, called Sync, was co-developed with help from Microsoft. With Sync, if the “paired” phone is on and active and the vehicle is involved an accident that triggers the airbags, then it automatically makes the system dial the closest 911 dispatcher. It relays the latitude, longitude and altitude plus it opens the microphone so the dispatcher can speak with occupants of the car.

Depending on the cellphone, some users of Ford’s Sync system can also have their text messages, interpreted and read back to them by the system. With the Sync system, a driver can receive and even send back text messages via voice (albeit a short list of canned messages). Ford and Microsoft use the MAP protocol with SMS messaging. Some Android based phones and some Blackberry phones can send and receive text messages through the Sync system. This allows drivers to stay more focused on the road. Currently Apple engineers are not complying with this protocol and so Apple iPhone users cannot use the text-to-voice functions (unless they are using the new iPhone 4s with Siri). Siri, a voice-operated assistant, can be accessed through Sync and she will find and read text messages and play tehm back through the vehicle’s sound system.

As more vehicle manufacturers expand the Bluetooth capabilities of their vehicles, then more and more drivers will have the opportunity to avoid using their handheld cellphones while driving. Hopefully this ban will reduce the number of fatalities from distracted drivers.

In fact, the automotive insurance industry is already listing ten safety features they think all new car buyers should be looking for in their next vehicle. The list includes:

Intelligent Cruise Control – This helps your vehicle maintain a safe distance from cars ahead of it.

Lane Drifting Warning – This helps drivers who have inadvertently drifted out of their lane and could be going into another lane or going off the road. The constant monitoring keeps drivers on their toes.

Tire Pressure Monitoring – This is now required by the NHTSA on all vehicles built since 2008. Helps alert drivers if a tire is over- or under-inflated.

Rear View Cameras – When the car’s transmission is placed in reverse it automatically displays a view on a monitor to let the driver see what’s behind them.

Blind Spot Detection – Sensors at the rear of the vehicle alert the driver so they can safely make lane changes.

Adaptive Headlights – These do more than ordinary headlights to make it easier for drivers to see what’s ahead or around the corner.

Intelligent Airbag Sensors – Using spontaneous sensors, the vehicle determine which airbags need to be fired and at what speed to keep drivers safe in a collision.

Emergency Response Systems – In addition to calling 911 for assistance, this system shuts of the fuel delivery system, disconnects the battery from the alternator, turns on interior lights and unlocks the doors.

Rollover Prevention – Complicated sensors detect a rollover in progress and fire off appropriate airbags and other defenses to keep occupants safe.

Night Vision Assistance – Vehicle equipped with this have infrared sensors that can look further ahead on the road to detect people or animals that might be difficult to see.

So safe driving can be enhanced with increased driver awareness, safer roads, tougher traffic laws and vehicles built with better technology.