A friend recently commented that there sure seems to be a lot of serious, sometimes fatal, daytime crashes these days. He speculated that the reason is due to distracted driving.

Drunk driving is more of a problem at night when bars are crowded, leading to bad collisions from time to time due to irresponsible people who drive impaired. Statistics back that up as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drunk driving involved in fatal crashes is four times higher at night than during the day.

My friend is right, though, that distracted driving is becoming a major safety problem. The NHTSA reported that in 2015, there were 3,477 people killed and an estimated additional 391,000 people injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Some government estimates report 25 percent of motor vehicle accidents in the United States are a result of the driver being distracted.

One major reason for the distractions is smart phones. The Federal Communications Commission reports that in any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 people are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.

There is no denying that distractions from mobile devices are responsible for many of these daytime crashes, but vehicles are increasingly building in distractions that are leading to more dangerous roads today.

The infotainment systems built into vehicles today take drivers’ eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel for potentially dangerous periods of time, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The research specifically shows that drivers using in-vehicle technologies — voice-based and touch screen features — experience high levels of visual and mental demand for more than 40 seconds when completing tasks such as programming navigation. The problem is previous research shows that removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash.

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. drivers use infotainment systems while driving, so it isn’t any wonder that the dangerous consequences are showing up on roads throughout the country during daylight hours.

The AAA research shows the most distracting task is programming navigation, taking an average of 40 seconds for drivers to complete. While driving at 25 miles per hour, a driver can travel the length of four football fields during the time it could take to enter a destination in navigation – all while distracted from the important task of driving, reports AAA.

Consumers want the modern technology in their vehicles, but many features have little to do with driving and often have no regard for safety.

“Some of the latest systems on the market now include functions unrelated to the core task of driving like sending text messages, checking social media or surfing the web — tasks we have no business doing behind the wheel,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO. “Automakers should aim to reduce distractions by designing systems that are no more visually or mentally demanding than listening to the radio or an audiobook. And drivers should avoid the temptation to engage with these technologies, especially for non-driving tasks.”

The interesting thing is that at one time radios were considered a source of distraction. As radios were first being widely installed in automobiles during the early 1930s there were fierce fights over whether they should be allowed.

Later research found there was no link between radios and accidents. Still, several states passed laws banning radios in cars, yet they were rarely enforced.

That’s still a problem today. A total of 39 states ban texting while driving, yet that is rarely enforced except after fatal accidents when it is too late for prevention. 

When technology is made so readily accessible, the temptation is too great for many drivers.

The solution appears to be to block access to technology when the car is moving. The NHTSA has released a set of voluntary safety guidelines that lock out tasks such as text messaging, social media and programming navigation when vehicles aren’t parked. That hasn’t taken hold yet and may never unless there is forced regulation.

In the meantime, drivers need to remember that just because technology is available doesn’t mean it should be used at all times.

Many people feel technology is robbing us of life as we become more engrossed in screens than what is happening in front of us. However, it can also actually rob us of our life — or a fellow traveler of his or her life — if it distracts us too much from the task of navigating a complex machine that zips us along thoroughfares that are always full of surprises.