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Location data reveals troubling reality of distracted driving in United States

We shouldn’t use our cell phones while driving, we all know that. But how many of us actually follow the rules of keeping the eyes on the road and hands on the wheel – at all times? How many times have you thought a quick glance to check who is calling or messaging wouldn’t make a difference? Or that if you put your phone on speaker mode or connect it to your car’s Bluetooth, you should be fine?

Chances are, it has happened with most of us more times than we would care to admit. So much so, we no longer even consider it as ‘distracted driving’. But that’s exactly what it is. And it is responsible for 26% of all collisions in the United States, according to the National Safety Council.

So, how bad is the problem, really? 100 times worse than previously thought, a new study by Zendrive has revealed. Till now, the most reliable data for distracted driving came from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who estimated that 660,000 drivers use their phones during daylight hours. But Zendrive is convinced a whopping 69 million US drivers use their phones each day.

Now, the mobile driver analytics platform didn’t come to the conclusion easily. They studied 3.1 million anonymous drivers for 3 months, analyzing 570 million trips that covered 5.6-billion miles. Zendrive’s technology uses a phone’s sensors and GPS to measure driver behavior, including speeding, aggressive driving, hard braking, collisions, and phone use. This sensor data is then turned over to machine learning algorithms to draw actionable insights. This particular analysis revealed that out of 100 trips, drivers would use their phones 88 times. Let that number sink in before we break it down further for you.

The study found that average phone use was 3.5 minutes per hour of driving. Doesn’t sound like much? Here’s a fun fact: Taking your eyes off the road for only 2 seconds increases your chances of a collision by 20 times. And if you’re driving distracted for 3.5 minutes at 55mph, that’s like driving 42 football fields with your eyes closed! “In other words, that’s equivalent to 105 opportunities an hour that you could nearly kill yourself and/or others,” says Noah Budnick, Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs for Zendrive.

According to the study, phone usage among drivers peaks during daytime hours. While, on an average, 40% of drivers use their phone at least once at any given hour of the day, this number goes up 72% between 10am-5pm.

As Zendrive says, traffic deaths are preventable. If we know what behaviors contribute to traffic deaths, we can develop strategies to reduce and, eventually, eliminate them. It would be interesting to see how communities, governments, and safety experts use this new data to save lives. Here’s how different states fared in the study:

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911 will soon take location data from your iPhone during emergencies

In emergencies, knowing the location of the person in distress is the single most important factor for first responders. Apple knows that all too well and is making it easier for 911 to dispatch a fire truck, ambulance, or police car where they are needed the most.
Since 2015, Apple has had the tools in place to determine the location of an iOS device using signals from the nearest cell towers and on-device data sources like GPS and Wi-Fi access points. What it didn’t know was how to get the data generated by its HELO (Hybridized Emergency Location) technology to 911 centers.

That is going to change with iOS 12, the next software update for iPhone which is slated to release later this year. Apple has partnered with emergency technology company RapidSOS to use the latter’s Internet Protocol-based data pipeline system to relay the emergency location data to 911 centers.

Five decades ago, when emergency services number 911 was set up in the United States, it was designed for the landline infrastructure of that time. The system would tell the operator the exact address where the hard-wired phone was installed and help could be dispatched swiftly.

Today, of the 240 million calls made to 911 each year, 80% are reportedly made from mobile devices. And pinpointing their exact location is no mean feat. Therefore, one of the very first questions an operator asks the caller is, “Where are you calling from?”
The Federal Communications Commission of the United States has mandated that by 2021, telecom carriers must be able to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80% of the time. And Rob McMullen, President of the National Emergency Number Association, the 911 Association is positive that Apple’s technology will “accelerate the deployment of Next Generation 911 for everyone, saving lives and protecting property.”

Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook has assured that checks are in place to see a user’s location is not leveraged for any non-emergency purpose. Only the responding 911 center will have access to the location data during an emergency call.

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