Driving while distracted

February 15, 2011 1:25:42 PM PST
I drive my teenaged kids to school every morning.

I know, I know, they are quite capable, and dare I say on their behalf, quite eager to take the bus to their respective schools.

But I insist on it, even though I know that it would be better for the environment and for traffic if they took public transportation.

However, I figure I have worked the night shift since 1999, and since I miss crucial at-home time with them in the evenings, taking them to school provides at least a sliver of quality time.

Plus it's a good time for us to talk about everything, including distracted driving.

Fortunately, my kids seem to be saints on this issue. My eldest daughter has a driver's license, and when I've called her while she's driving, she goes handsfree, with the phone, not the steering wheel. And she doesn't return texts while driving, something she does with incredible precision and timeliness when she's off-road.

They are also very aware of every time I glance at my cell phone/email device, which, I admit, I do at stop lights. I should explain that our daily newscast "ratings" arrive via e-mail during the morning commute, so I'm more-than-curious about the numbers every morning. Even when I'm stopped at a red light, the kids let me have it if I look at the ratings while the engine's running.

Good for them.

I remember a story I once did for 20/20 about distracted drivers. This was in 1998 or 1999, before it was such a hot-button topic and before texting became all the craze. As part of the story I went to a car safety test track to look at these new devices that were getting installed in some cars that could track where the car was going so that the driver wouldn't get lost.

I'm not sure I had heard of GPS back then, but I found the device a remarkable invention.

The purpose of our story was to look at how distracted a driver might become operating the device. It was frightening when we actually put a clock on how long my eyes were off the road.

Technology changes everything about our daily lives. Nowadays, it's against the law to talk on a cell phone while driving (a new law in New York starts tomorrow that means points off your license if you're caught talking on a non-hands-free phone while behind the wheel). But those GPS devices and the fancy schmancy entertainment systems in cars are just as distracting as cell phones. And there's no law against those items.

When my apartment complex first put in a wireless Internet system more than a decade ago, some people worried about the health effects of having all those invisible signals flying around the apartments. I think those worries were and are legitimate, but wireless technology has exploded since then, and you don't hear much discussion about the medical downsides to it. Too bad. I wonder about people who get brain cancer these days, and whether wireless has anything to do with it.

I'm just sayin'.

All of which is a roundabout way of introducing our featured story tonight at 11 a relatively new technology to deactivate smart phones when they're moving as in when they're in a car.

There are some apps that do this, but for the first time a cell phone carrier is now offering the feature, and it's especially aimed at parents with teenaged drivers.

Does it work? Is it worth it?

Carolina Leid takes a look, tonight at 11.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.


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