Drivers in New York are not permitted to use mobile electronic devices while behind the wheel, but cellphone bans are often flouted. When motorists are ticketed for violating these laws, it is usually because a police officer observed them making phone calls or sending text messages. Two studies conducted by researchers from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggest that technology could help law enforcement to identify drivers who violate cellphone bans or cause accidents while using mobile electronic devices.
The first IIHS study sought to find out if roadside cameras could identify distracted drivers as effectively as human beings. This is an important question because cameras can be mounted in places that would be too dangerous for human observers. When humans observed cars on a test track, they identified drivers eating, drinking or using their cellphones 78% of the time. When humans looked at photographs taken by roadside cameras, they identified distracting behavior 72% of the time. These results suggest that cameras could be used to enforce cellphone bans in the same way that cameras mounted on traffic lights are used to identify red-light runners.
The second IIHS study compared telematic data gathered by the safe-driver devices used by insurance companies with information provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. After comparing the data, the researchers concluded that telematics data could be used to identify distracted drivers who cause car accidents. The researchers believe that the gyroscopes cellphone makers put into their devices to reorient screens automatically could also provide accident investigators with evidence of distraction.
An underreported problem
Most road experts think distracted driving is an underreported problem because it leaves no clues for accident investigators, and few motorists are willing to admit that they crashed because of cellphone use. These IIHS studies indicate that technology could help law enforcement to identify distracted drivers and improve road safety.