Why is texting and driving not considered an epidemic?

A California man is suing Apple for not enabling a lockout feature on iPhones. He's not the only one.

The intersection of personal responsibility and legislation is always contentious. People generally want to be left alone when doing what they want yet also desire governmental interference when others perform acts they deem inappropriate. Psychologists and neuroscientists can point out such blatant discrepancies—leave me be until I want you to step in—though convincing people to change longstanding habits is nearly impossible.


Changing perspective can be clarifying. Take, for example, terrorism, the most discussed topic in the country right now. Whatever your thoughts on immigrants and the potential danger of an attack, statistics show that the chances of being killed in one are marginal. As my colleague Paul Ratner reports, 3.6 billion to one when involving a refugee and 3.6 million to one by an immigrant.

You’re much more likely to be injured or killed by someone that’s texting while driving. A few sobering statistics:

  • Texting and driving is the cause of 1.6 million accidents every year
  • 330,000 people are injured every year because of it
  • Eleven teenagers die every single day thanks to texting and driving
  • One-quarter of all traffic accidents are due to texting
  • I’m much more frightened pulling onto the streets of Los Angeles than worried that my Muslim neighbors are harboring secrets, and for good reason: sixteen people die every day on America’s roads because of texting and driving. Sadly, every one of these deaths is avoidable.

    I’m not the only one fearful of the terrible habits of other drivers. Julio Ceja is a fellow Californian who was rear-ended by a texting driver. Instead of accepting his fate and moving on, he decided to do something about it. He’s suing Apple.

    Ceja’s case is built upon the fact that the technology company has the capability to enable a “lockout” feature on iPhones that would render texting impossible but has failed to use it. Apple filed a patent for this very technology, which it calls “Driver Handheld Computer Lockout Device,” in 2008. The patent was approved three years ago.

    Another Texas family is also suing Apple since their five-year-old daughter was killed by a driver that ran into them while using Facetime. They’re using the same patent as proof of corporate negligence.

    Last year I wrote about the Textalyzer, a potential means for law enforcement to know whether or not a driver was on their phone during an accident. More advocacy groups are springing up to address this issue, though unfortunately it doesn’t have the same emotional appeal as, say, terrorism. Humans fear the unknown, the other, more than they worry about everyday habits, even if the latter proves deadlier. Combating terrorism makes a great campaign slogan. Intervening in texting habits is considered proof of a nanny state.

    At times some adults need nannies, however, just as we need laws protecting us from murderers and bankers.  If the government is unwilling to step in, technology companies have a duty to step in where an obvious problem exists, especially when the welfare of their consumers is involved.

    Texting distracts you for a minimum of five seconds during a time when full cognitive resources are required. There’s simply no good response to the necessity of this habit when the option of pulling over, taking care of your communication, then resuming your drive exists.

    As with alcohol and opioids, texting drivers rarely admit their addiction. They think they’re in perfect control of their minds even if reality reveals a different story. Unlike the opioid epidemic, which has fortunately received more attention over the years, the epidemic playing out on American streets remains hidden in plain sight, and drivers are unlikely to do anything about it until it’s too late.

    Hindsight always seems to win out where common sense could have been such a simple and less destructive replacement. There’s nothing worse than telling yourself “I should have known better.” Yet we seem wired to do just that, over and over again. 

    --

    Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

    Big Think Edge
    • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
    • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
    • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
    Videos
    • Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
    • But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
    • Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.


    Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

    The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

    (MsMaria/Shutterstock)
    Surprising Science
    • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
    • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
    • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
    Keep reading Show less

    Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

    The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

    Image source: Pixabay
    Surprising Science
    • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
    • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
    • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
    Keep reading Show less