The Road to Improving Intextication and Driving - Improvement Week

Stories of car accidents involving a driver distracted by the sounds of cellphone are all too familiar. New stories filled with incidents of fatalities and injuries are all too common including Ashley Zumbrunnen’s accident four years ago.

She tells BTR that the accident changed her life in more ways than people realize. In some ways surviving is the hardest part.

“I can’t play with my daughter like I used to. The sensation in my legs and arms is no longer there. The memory of being able to walk normal doesn’t exist,” she explains.

While texting her husband, Ashley Zumbrunnen’s eyes left the road causing her car to drift onto the other side of Highway 55 in Idaho. Seeing her mistake, she tried to correct it and lost control of the vehicle. The accident left Ms. Zumbrunnen partially paralyzed, as she was able to gain back some movement through rehabilitation.

“I couldn’t stand up, sit up, dress myself, I couldn’t bathe myself,” she told local press. “I was a 31-year-old baby, learning how to do everything.”

At the time of her accident, Ashley Zumbrunnen tells BTR that she was unaware the risks and dangers of texting and driving: “I didn’t even know there were laws against it. There was not a lot of information put out there for it.”

Four years on and have things changed? Well, the number of cellphones and elaborate distractions certainly has with Business Insider estimating 1.4 billion smartphone users last year and that does not even include the old-school Nokias.

“Phones are the must-have possessions of the moment, and little is being done in the marketing of phones to raise awareness of the dangers of texting and driving,” Jason Epstein, a personal injury attorney with Premier Law Group and founder of Teens Against Distracted Driving tells BTR. “The more we raise awareness of the injuries and fatalities caused by texting and driving, the less it will be seen as a harmless activity.”

According to the US Government website on distracted driving more than 3, 300 people were killed in crashes where the driver’s focus was sidetracked from the road during 2012. Although this number has slightly decreased since 2011, the fatalities are still high.

Results from the 2011 National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPLUS) estimated that 660,000 cars were being operated by cellphone distracted drivers.

“We all like to think that we are immune to the risks of texting and driving. Unfortunately, everyone who has been in an accident while texting and driving has likely thought the same thing,” says Epstein.

While the statistics still remain high, the campaigns to raise awareness about the cost a simple text can have.

‘Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks’ is an advertising crusade by the Attorney General and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTS) aimed at young adults. Through advertisements on the television, radio, and social media networks the campaign also offers tips like having a ‘designated texter.’

Wireless carrier, AT&T launched the ‘It Can Wait’ campaign earlier last year. It offers people the to opportunity sign a pledge against texting and driving. There are also a number of online websites advocating pledging as well as publishing stories and testimonies by victims and families including and Jason Epstein’s Teens Against Distracted Driving. The non-profit organization sent out 80,000 thumb socks to prevent texting while driving, per their ‘Thumb Wars’ campaign.

New inventions and technologies for prevention have also recently emerged into the market including Car Mode, a prototype designed Joey Cofone. A lot like the existing airplane mode on existing cellphones, the technology would remove the temptations of notifications of calls and text while driving.

“In my research I found that most people text while driving because they’re responding to other people’s texts,” Joey Cofone, the creator of Car Mode, tells BTR. “This means that we generally have the willpower to resist initiating a message, but are far worse at resisting once a text comes in. We used this key piece of knowledge to guide the design. Once they turn Car Mode on they won’t be bothered until they arrive at their destination or they turn it off.”

In March last year Origo released their ORIGOSafe device for cars. The device works like a breathlizer where user cannot start their car unless the cellphone is plugged into the docking station.

Clay Skelton, President of Origo tells BTR, “It is a physical solution that doesn’t require any app on the phone, and doesn’t require any updates. All it does to the phone is take it out of the driver’s hand, and charge it. If the user needs to use any of the bluetooth features of the phone, they can do it hands free.”

Sales of the device have become popular in the trucking industry as well as in commercial fleets according to Skelton.

“We need to get the word out,” he says. “Parents that do have this in their teens’ cars love the peace of mind they have knowing their kids are not texting.”

As tempting as these new technologies may be, some like Jason Epstein have their doubts.

“Hands-free devices are marginally less distracting than texting or hands-only dialing, but the risks associated are still very real. The bottom line is, if you must communicate while on the road, only do so while your car is parked,” says Epstein. “Cars are heavy machines that travel very fast, and any time you take your attention away from operating them, for whatever reason, you are increasing your chance of a serious accident.”

“The only real way this will stop is either having the cell phone companies intervene, or more individuals like myself speak out. We are visual creatures so seeing a person who has survived an accident that was due to texting and driving may stop it,” Ashley Zumbrunnen says.