Driver error is estimated to cause approximately 95% of all car accidents. Alcohol is involved in approximately 1/3 of all accidents. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that more than 1/4 of all auto accidents are caused by distracted driving. This estimate may be very low because of the driver reluctance to admit distraction, lack of witnesses inside the vehicle, lack of cell phone usage records by police and the large number of distractions available to a driver inside their motor vehicle.
In five seconds of texting at 55 miles per hour, a car travels the length of a football field. Even at 30 miles per hour, the car can travel 60 yards. Two to four thousand pounds of steel, plastic and glass can cause a lot of damage to an unfortunate pedestrian or bicycle rider struck by the vehicle. There are approximately 10 million car accidents each year in the United States causing over 37,000 deaths. As many as 9,000 pedestrians and cyclists are among the dead.
Driver distractions have been organized as Visual, Auditory, Manual and Cognitive Distractions.
Visual distractions include what has been described as “rubber necking” such as looking at police activity on the roadside, a person outside of the vehicle, roadside animals, bill boards, a dropped object inside the vehicle, a passenger in the vehicle, the family dog, an insect, changing the radio, looking for the cell phone or other papers.
Auditory distractions include talking of a cellphone (hand- held or hands-free), speaking or arguing with passengers
Manual distractions include texting, reaching for or dialing a cell phone, manipulating the dashboard screens, changing the radio stations, inserting a CD, controlling windows or mirrors, locking the doors, adjusting mirrors, seat belts, reaching for items inside the vehicle. This also includes reaching and consuming food or beverages.
Cognitive distractions include attempting to read or compose text messages, day dreaming, talking to or arguing with passengers, fatigue, being stressed, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or focused on a work or personal problem.
This list is illustrative of the problem. Law enforcement may identify some of the alcohol or drug causes. It is possible to secure cell phone records. But there is no current practical method to identify the more than thirty other causes of distracted driving.
At some time in the future, the autonomous motor vehicle may allow all of the occupants to eat, drink, sleep, read, talk on their cell phones and play with the family dog without causing the estimated 95% of driver error caused accidents. However, the path to the fully autonomous vehicle may be further in the future than we think. It will take decades before all of the human-operated motor vehicles are off of the road. The autonomous vehicle will surely present a new set of hazards. In the interim, it will be important to focus on the life-saving car technologies that are currently available and ensure that they are required in pre-autonomous motor vehicles.