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An Australian state has rolled out a new tech-forward – and rather extreme – program to help end distracted driving. New South Wales recently installed mobile phone detection cameras in hopes of cutting traffic fatalities by a third over two years.

Now, only hands-free calling is legal in New South Wales, which includes the city of Sydney. Video calls, app use, and other mobile tasks are prohibited for motorists. The detection cameras identify whether a driver is likely illegally handling a mobile phone and send it to transportation authorities for review. The Netherlands launched a similar system shortly before New South Wales’ roll-out, using it to fine drivers who fail to obey distracted driving laws.

While concerned about the distracted driving epidemic, the U.S. has not yet taken such drastic measures. Lawmakers in some states have advocated for “textalyzers” to catch distracted drivers red handed. The device, which pulls data from motorists’ cell phones, would allow police to determine if a driver had sent a text in the seconds before a crash. There’s also cell phone features like “Do Not Disturb While Driving” to help keep drivers’ eyes on the road and off their phones. iPhone can withhold notifications whenever it’s connected to a moving car and respond to texts with an automatic message.

As distracted driving awareness advocates and EndDD.org presenters, our team would applaud a move in the U.S. similar to that in New South Wales. However, we have questions as to how the program would work. Would people be penalized for using Google Maps, for example, or would use of navigation apps be acceptable if the phone is docked? If no map applications are allowed, would paper maps really be less distracting? What about touching a phone to end a hands-free call? Drawing a clear line between what is acceptable and unacceptable would be important for a camera detection program to be successful here in the U.S. 

In the meantime, we’ll keep beating the drum about how we can all be safer drivers. While you’re here, consider these tips:

  1. Put the phone away before you drive. About 660,000 drivers are using a cell phone or manipulating an electronic device at any given moment during daylight hours in the U.S. The easiest way to avoid this distraction is to put your phone in the back seat and forget about it until you have arrived at your destination.
  2. Know that distractions come in many forms. Distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use while driving. Eating and drinking, controlling the radio, grooming, and any other acts that require your brain to be elsewhere are also distractions behind the wheel.
  3. Speak up when others drive distracted. As a passenger, help your driver drive distraction-free. Suggest alternatives to these distractions by offering to be a “designated texter,” reading or sending emails for the driver, operating a GPS, and offering other help.
  4. Require employees to drive safely. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of on-the-job death. Employers can protect their employees by talking with them about safe-driving habits and establishing workplace cell phone policies. 

Unless and until our nation takes a bigger step to curb distracted drivers, it is up to all of us to take responsibility on the road. For more safety tips and or to schedule a distracted driving awareness presentation, visit enddd.org.

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