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Can the phone companies prevent distracted driving?

There are few debates as heated and complex as weighting social responsibility versus individual freedom. Just because something can be controlled, does that mean it should be? If the controller is a business, is it in their best interest to turn a function off when it could be making them money? If a customer is paying for a product, can the provider turn it off on them?

Driver behavior

It's a question the mobile phone universe may soon have to answer. As the number of road deaths increases, distracted driving - especially texting while driving - draws more and more attention. It's well documented that texting while driving is a problem and that, even with laws against it, drivers continue to believe "it can't happen to me" until it's too late.

An AT&T study found that the ping of a new text message releases dopamine to the brain. In short, that means texting is an addictive behavior. Drivers know texting from behind the wheel is wrong, yet they do it anyway. There are marketplace apps to block, divert or convert text to audio but these are all user controlled. Users have the option to turn their messages off, but an addict is unlikely to do so.

Controlling technology

Many are calling on the cell phone industry to limit drivers automatically, instead of through optional apps. Existing apps can sense a user's location (even while in motion), which suggests the technology exists if developers focus on the task.

Apple filed for a patent to lock out driver devices over 8 years ago, in 2008. The company is notorious for guarding the secretes of their technology and, with nothing publicly released, it is not known if they've perfected a system. Meanwhile, the currently existing apps and hardware that locks devices can be problematic for others in a car. There are issues differentiating between a driver and a passenger, distinguishing a moving car versus public transportation, and in keeping driver-needed tools like navigation functional when the texting function is blocked.

Is there a social responsibility?

If Apple or another manufacturer has perfected the technology should it be required by law? By definition, a mobile phone should work while away from home or office. Customers pay high rates and expect uninterrupted service from nearly any point on Earth. Limiting use will cut into that very core concept.

The National Safety Council has called for the technology and, as accident statistics rise, there is sure to be action. Efforts far have been balanced between manufacturers, awareness campaigns and legislation, but that approach hasn't gotten the job done.

From single car accidents to freeway pile-ups, there are all levels of scope and severity when a car crashes. Anyone who has been involved in a distracted driving accident should consult with an attorney to determine options and for claiming adequate compensation from the offending parties and their insurance.

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