Dan Rossby Dan Ross, Chief Executive Officer of Illume Software

Distracted driving: it's an issue that's not going away anytime soon. With more than 2.5 billion text messages sent daily in the US-a 100 percent increase from a year ago-and the corresponding growth in distracted driving incidents that killed more than 5,400 people and injured nearly 500,000 in 2009, distracted driving is a growing problem in search of a solution. Over 70 million Americans now own smartphones that contain a myriad of features beyond text and voice that further add to driver distraction.

Distracted driving technically encompasses multiple driver behaviors; eating or drinking, reading, grooming or even changing the radio station. But none has generated so many statistics and found its way into the headlines like cellphone use, particularly texting.

Distracted driving diverts the attention of the driver in three ways: 
            • Visual: taking your eyes off the road 
            • Manual: taking your hands off the wheel 
            • Cognitive: taking your mind off of what you are doing

More than 35 states have distracted driving regulations on the books. However, enforcement is proving difficult. Last year, the Department of Transportation banned the nation's 3.7 million commercial drivers from texting while driving, and is now considering a rule to ban drivers from talking on cellphones. The National Transportation Safety Board is also lobbying heavily for the ban which also has the support of the American Trucking Association.

The statistics and research behind the dangers cellphone use poses while driving are particularly compelling. In addition to the above mentioned statistics, the National Highway Transportation Safety Association has determined through research that using a cellphone while driving increases the chances for an accident by 400 percent, and is the cause of 23 percent of all vehicle crashes. A University of Utah study concludes that using a cellphone while driving, whether it's hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver's reaction as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent, the threshold for drunk driving.

In commercial environments, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has deemed the practice a violation of safety regulations in the workplace and is increasing fines from $2,750 for the first occurrence to $11,000. This is particularly important, as drivers of light trucks (along with motorcyclists) had the highest incidence of driver distraction at the time of a crash - about 12 percent.

Pressure to Stay Connected
In both work and personal environments we are all feeling the pressure to be 'always on' when it comes to our cellphones. Many workers often have no choice but to use cellphones to communicate with offices and dispatchers. And the desire to increase productivity and efficiency created by the pressures of tight scheduling and unforeseen delays make using cellphones while driving more and more tempting. The same holds true for the general populace. Texting in particular is an instantaneous medium with the sender expecting an immediate response regardless of the activity of the recipient, including driving.

The Role of Technology
While technology certainly helped create the problem, it can now play a vital role in helping to solve it. A number of technologies are available today to assist those individuals who lack the self -control to curb cellphone use while driving and companies seeking to enforce compliance to distracted driving policies. A selection of these include: 

Software-based: These solutions are inexpensive, always-on and GPS-based, but can impact battery life and are smartphone centric. 
Text2Speech: These solutions keep a driver's eyes on the road but create a new set of distractions at the same time. 
Network-based: These solutions require little user interaction but introduce unwanted "foreign objects" into the network. 
Hardware-based: These solutions work with most Bluetooth devices as well as dumb phones, but complex and expensive to install and maintain.

Illume SoftwareAll of the technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, and all can help address this growing problem. iZup from Illume Software, the company I represent, for example, is an intuitive, inexpensive and easy to install software solution that automatically diverts voice calls to voicemail while vehicles are in motion, and holds all data interactions, including text messages, until the product determines that the trip is completed. iZup also contains a customizable auto-reply feature for text messages that immediately notifies callers that the recipient is driving and will respond to the text when the trip is complete and gives you the ability to prioritize a list of contacts to keep employees in touch with the most important people like dispatchers or supervisors, plus access to emergency services while driving.

Distracted driving is an issue that is not going away anytime soon. Implementing a simple software solution can truly be a lifesaver.

About the Author, Daniel Ross
Daniel Ross is Chief Executive Officer of Illume Software, a Boston-based mobile software company that offers responsible solutions to cellphone related distracted driving.

Posted by Janine E. Mooney, Associate Editor