Your Driver Has a Shorter Attention Span than a Goldfish. Do You Hand Them the Keys?

by Alyssa Davenport, FJA Communications Coordinator

There’s a problem on Florida’s roads. In 2018, according to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (HSMV), there were 1,671 citations given by law enforcement for distracted driving. In 2015, 3,242 people died in 885,000 distraction-related crashes. Among those crashes, 69,000 were tied to cell phone use, and 453 of these crashes were fatal.

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Humans have an average attention span of eight seconds… Goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds. What’s one difference between humans and goldfish? Goldfish don’t have smartphones–or drive.

According to a recent study done by Zendrive, U.S. drivers are becoming more likely to use their cellphones more often–with less awareness. This year, the company took self-assessment data from millions of drivers and combined it with data from their cellphones. The question to the drivers was clear: Are you good at focusing on the road? As it turns out, when it came to focus, the ones who gave themselves the highest scores were the most distracted drivers. Nearly one-third of the most distracted drivers had recorded themselves as ‘extremely safe’ in the survey.

Legislators, technicians, and families have searched for answers on how best to promote user safety. To prevent phone-related distraction while driving, legislators sent Governor Ron DeSantis a texting while driving bill (CS/HB107). This bill makes texting, with some exceptions, a primary offense. Beyond that, this bill makes it a primary offense to have a phone in your hand in a school zone, school crossing, or construction zone.  Gov. DeSantis is expected to approve this legislation. Whether or not this legislation will be effective, however, is up in the air. Georgia statistics showed a 22 percent reduction in texting and app usage within the first month after passing a similar law, and traffic fatalities dropped by 14 percent in 2018. Yet, TrueMotion, a company that monitors in-vehicle phone use, said the average American driver spends 17 percent of the trip on their cell phone, and that this behavior is only getting worse.

Soon, though, any worries about distracted driving-related crashes may disappear. With driverless car technology, you could just watch a movie while the software ‘drives.’

With states racing to be test tracks for the software research, Florida has passed the bill HB 311. This bill set the pace for allowing companies like Uber and Lyft to implement their ride services with driverless vehicles. However, safety advocates express concern on how the rush on driverless vehicles could be a safety hazard to consumers. Florida artist Janna Pelle living in New York City wrote a song on distracted driving, giving fuel to distracted driving quickly emerging as a cause. Just last year, an Uber autonomous test-vehicle operated by Uber hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. These companies paint pictures of a transportation revolution with safer roads, but as the fatal crash in Arizona shows, the technology is still in its experimental stage. General Counsel of the Florida Justice Association, a leading advocate for consumer safety, William Cotterall told a legislative committee, “this equipment and this software at some point in time will fail, and right now Florida is the testing ground.” Along with the lack of clear financial responsibility guidelines, conflicts between developers, their insurers, and driverless car crash victims will arise as their eventual cases move through the system.

Florida has some of the country’s most progressive laws and outlooks regarding driverless technology. Given the recent passage of this legislation, autonomous technology companies are looking at Florida to manufacture this technology. Luminar, an Orlando-based company develops Lidar, the “eyes” for driverless auto glass. The company has great hopes Central Florida will become the site for design, advanced manufacturing, and process engineering of Lidar.

Someday, after today’s Earth-shaking tech innovations become everyday tools, we’ll be able to focus long enough to put our goldfish in an autonomous taxi and send them to the kids. Until then, when you’re driving, put down the phone!

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