The Auto Dealer’s Role in Preventing Distracted Driving

distracted drivers

The Problems of Distracted Driving

In 2016, nearly 40,000 people died as a result of automobile accidents.  While there have always been dangers associated with driving, the likelihood of an accident has increased in recent years due to the myriad of ways drivers can become distracted on the road. Fumbling with the GPS, searching for a song on the radio or iPod, receiving a phone call or text message are all common occurrences that can take a driver’s attention away from the road. In the current age of social media, many may feel compelled to send a tweet or Instagram photo of their commute to pass the time. There is no shortage of ways today’s drivers can enter into a hazardous situation in a matter of seconds.

A group that has become interested in this phenomenon is a team of MIT researchers. In 2012, Government-sponsored researchers set out to monitor the car behaviors of 2,600 individuals with cameras and sensors for a year. This information created a treasure-trove of data that gave researchers an inside look at the habits and behaviors of the American driver. Fast forward to 2016, for the drivers who had accidents, MIT scientist took the information from the database and looked to see what these individuals were doing 20 seconds before the event. Bryan Reimer, an MIT engineer, commented that they found that drivers experienced failures in attention allocation a lot longer before the crash events.

The Response of Car Companies

The MIT study has made us more aware of the dangers of distracted driving, and besides the individuals themselves, there are a few other players who can help change this situation for the better. Car companies have taken up the charge with more technology-based safety features within the automobile. Everything from audible text messages by Ford to eye tracking technology that can detect when drivers look away from the road for a text message by GM. Many times, the focus is on car companies in this conversation since they explicitly control what goes into the car. However, automobile dealers also need to be a part of the dialogue.

The Role of the Automobile Dealer

There have been instances where automobile dealers have promoted safe driving practices among their customers. At the 2017 National Automobile Dealers Association conference, the National Foundation for Teen Safe Driving launched the “Senior Promise 2017 Campaign” to promote community relationships between car dealerships and local schools. The goal is to encourage dealerships to take an active role in sharing safe driving information to students and local community leaders.  

Another group of dealers has made a pledge to promote safe driving. LGM Financial services, a Canadian financial firm, leads the Auto Dealers Against Distracted Driving Campaign, an initiative that educates Canadian dealers and their staff on safe driving practices and asks them to take a pledge against distracted driving. In 2016, 4,000 auto dealer professionals representing over 700 Canadian dealerships made the commitment. One of the main ways the group encourages dealers to get involved is by establishing conversations with customers during the car purchasing process about the dangers of distracted driving. They also distribute digital and print materials to give to customers who purchase cars from their dealerships.

The Power of Communication

There is not yet a formal coalition within the United States that mirrors Canada’s, but if the Auto Dealers Against Distracted Driving Campaign diminishes accidents among the people Canadian dealers sell to, it may be a path American dealers may want to consider. The MIT study reveals the many dangers that drivers face while on the roads, and as we continue to see more technology enter the hands of consumers, the casualties of distracted driving will forever be an issue that impacts the automobile industry. However, the answer seems to be in communication.

Auto dealers can give back to their communities by providing information — like a summary of the results from the MIT study — to combat the issue of distracted driving. Creating coalitions and partnerships with local communities not only helps the cause, but it also makes the auto dealer a responsible voice in the community they serve. Linda Leo, an Auto Dealers Against Distracted Driving Campaign champion said it best, “From my experience, it doesn’t take a lot to make a connection; a quick conversation or a little reminder, combined with a bit of passion, has the potential to make a real impact for the cause in a short amount of time.”