How does technology affect distracted driving in Westport?

Westport – With the new car comes new technology. Every year, new features are added to the latest models, although police aren’t yet sure if that’s good for drivers.

Lt. Dave Wolf of the Westport Police Department said there isn’t enough data yet to say whether car screens are distracting or helpful.

“When you look away from the road and look at the screen, you’re not looking at the road,” he said. “I can’t help but think it’s a distraction.”

Distracted driving is a priority for the Westport Police Department, which participated in state and national distracted driving enforcement events on October 10. 15-Oct. 31. The campaign is funded by a grant that helps cover the additional costs of distracted driving by officers on patrol.

While distracted driving activities typically focus on cell phone violations, other technologies in the vehicle may be a factor or potential preventive tool for distracted driving in general.

In recent years, technology to help prevent distracted driving has been installed in cars. Features include automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist and lane departure warning.

“Safety features like indicators when you’re out of your lane, blind spot indicators, mechanisms to slow the vehicle down when you look too close to the car in front of you, all of those are great,” Wolf said.

However, touchscreens have also become a prominent feature in cars. From 2016 to 2017, global automotive touch panel shipments increased from 45 million to 50 million.

Westport is no stranger to new cars with all kinds of tech. It has the largest number of electric vehicles per adult in the state and even has electric vehicles in its police fleet.

In cars like the Tesla, where the screen is larger than in some other cars, it’s more helpful because you can see it more easily with your peripheral vision, Wolf said.

“But at the same time, if you’re looking to the right because you’re looking at the screen, it’s definitely distracting,” he added.

As for autonomous driving, Wolf said, “the jury is still out.”

Wolf said the department is involved in a campaign to focus on distracted driving violations.

Patrols include the new Traffic Safety Unit, a two-member unit focused on alleviating traffic-related issues within Westport, including distracted driving.

“We’re always looking for distracted drivers,” Wolf said.

During this time, however, more officials are examining distracted driving violations, in particular, Wolfe said.

“You can see four officers working on traffic safety, looking for distracted driving,” he said.

Under state law, drivers over the age of 17 can use a cell phone with a hands-free device in the car, but drivers 16 and 17 cannot use the device at all.

“At any given moment in the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are using or manipulating electronic devices while driving — a number that has remained constant for over a decade,” said a release from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

“More than 5,400 incidents in Connecticut in 2021 will be attributed to distracted driving,” the department added.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving is a factor in more than 8 percent of fatal car crashes and 20 percent of motor vehicle crashes nationwide in 2020.

Wolf recommends parking in a safe area if you need to make a call or text and don’t have access to hands-free.

“Try to stay focused on the road,” Wolfe said. “Don’t get distracted by the technology in the vehicle, because there’s a lot of stuff in there.”

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