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Dangers of Distracted Driving Examined; Apps that Prevent Cellphone Distractions while Driving Profiled. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired August 6, 2016 - 14:30   ET


KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Think about it. How often when you're driving do you see people checking their phones? And let's be honest, how often do you do it yourself while behind the wheel?

And it's not just texting. Drivers are on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and now the newest sensation, Pokemon Go. You name it. Drivers are checking their phones on cities to rural communities like the one. Looking at your phone to read one text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 miles an hour with your eyes off the road. One text increases your chances of crashing by at least six times. One text can have deadly consequences.

MATT BOEVE, ANDREA'S HUSBAND: Andrea was a perfect mom. She loved kids, I loved kids. We were going to have more kids. It was the high of life. We were settled, loving what we did, raising a family and breaking ground on a new home. In a blink of an eye our world changed.

WALLACE: On June 30th, 2014, Andrea took her darling girls, then 11 months and four years old, for a bike ride right near their home in rural Minnesota. Her husband, Matt, was doing some dangerous work on the family's farm.

BOEVE: I had a two way radio that kept in contact with one of my guys to keep me safe, you know. And all of a sudden over the two-way mom said "Matt, where are you?" I could hear in my mom's voice right away. And she said that Andrea and the girls were in an accident.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, what is your emergency?

WALLACE: What was that like and you get to the hospital and see Claire?

BOEVE: It was something I'll never forget because I was told she's OK. So it was horrible. No parent should have to go through that.

WALLACE: What do you tell the girls?

BOEVE: For any parent to go to their four-year-old and their 11 month old and say mommy's in heaven is something that's been the hardest part. WALLACE: A driver, Chris Weber, a South Dakota National

Guardsman and father of two, admitted he decided to make a payment on his phone. He says he looked down at his phone and heard a thud. He says he never saw Andrea and the girls.

CHRIS WEBER, DISTRACTED DRIVER: I failed number one because I was on my phone. I was distracted that day.

BOEVE: I just knew he was on his phone. A guy told me that. Even before I got to the scene, I knew it. And it's tough. It's so preventable. I mean, we are addicted to our phones. Anything can happen, and that anything happened to us.

WALLACE: Every day in the United States, more than eight people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes that are reported to involve distracted driving according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Distracted driving includes activities such as talking on a cellphone, texting, and eating. A recent study found that two out of three teens admit to using apps while driving, and that study was done before Pokemon Go.

To get a sense of what it is like to drive distracted, we headed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham's distracted driving research lab.

My friends are so fun on Facebook, oh, my gosh. And I wanted a friend of mine had this great picture I wanted to show you. So I would have been in another lane just by looking at friends.

Despina Stavrinos is the lab's director.

DESPINA STAVRINOS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Many of the times when you are engaging in social media while driving you were taking your eyes off the road for long glances. Those are those glances over two seconds that significantly increase your crash risk.

WALLACE: Matt's girls, Claire and Mallory, are now six and three.

You must think about her a lot, Matt, because you could have lost all your girls.

BOEVE: It is so preventable. A blink of an eye, you think you can take your eye off the road to read a text, check an app. But a split second took my wife. And almost took my children. My girls no longer have a mom. I don't have a wife, a soul mate. It is just something that didn't need to happen, and it did.

WALLACE: Here's a dirty little secret. It is not just teens who are checking their phones while driving. We parents are doing it too.

[14:35:02] In a recent survey, 56 percent of parents admitted checking their mobile devices while behind the wheel. How can we convince our kids not to do it if we're doing it ourselves? LAURA MAURER, DISTRACTED DRIVER: That's a horrible, horrible

feeling to deal with. And the guilt that comes with it is awful. And it is nothing that I want anyone to have to go through or experience in any way.

WALLACE: Laura Maurer visits the site near Brooklyn, Iowa, where her life changed two years ago. The mother of two and hair salon owner was driving along Old Highway 6. She pulled over, texted a client whose house she was heading to, and started driving again.

MAURER: I think I had gotten three miles down the road when she texted me back. And it dinged three times. And I don't think I even read the whole thing. I kind of skimmed and it set it down. And when I looked up, there he was. And I slammed on my brakes and I went to swerve. And unfortunately I clipped the -- was falling. And that was it.

WALLACE: A cross marks the place where 75-year-old Marvin Beck of nearby Malcolm, Iowa, was ejected from his tractor.

MAURER: I held him in my arms and called 911, and his sons ended up coming and took him out of my arms, and I think I called 911 again at that point. And I was in the police car when we found out that he didn't make it.

WALLACE: What was that like? It is going to be impossibly difficult no matter what.

MAURER: I don't think there is an hour that goes by that I don't think about it in some way.

WALLACE: Laura received a 30-day jail sentence, although 16 of those days were deferred. She is in the process of completing 200 hours of community service, sharing her story and warning others of the dangers of using a phone while behind the wheel.

MAURER: Even if I can save one kid from not doing it or one person, I think at least that is a little bit of comfort. Open people's eyes and make them realize we need change way we're driving.

WALLACE: Especially when you think about how many people, including parents, text or post on social media while driving.

MAURER: We're finding estimates before half of all parents say they drive distracted. So that's not really helping for where we're trying to get in terms of shifting the societal norms. If mom and dad are doing it, then, hey, it must be OK.

MAURER: We were on our way home from a baseball game and my husband was driving. And my friend texted me driving in the car behind me.

WALLACE: She texted you from the car?

MAURER: Behind me while driving. And I was in the passenger seat and I wouldn't answer. When I saw her later, she said, I know, I didn't even think. And my attitude is, don't do it just because it's me. I don't want you to do it at all because it's dangerous.

WALLACE: Sometimes the kids are the ones telling their parents to stop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom is a big Facebooker. So every single second she's always on her phone texting. And I always tell her, mom, your kids are in the car. It is one thing if it is just you. But my little sister is with us. Can you just stop for maybe a couple minutes?

WALLACE: Geoff Lee, president and general manager of Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, admits he, too, has texted while driving.

What do you do with your son? You've had conversations with him. Has he seen you to it? What does he say?

GEOFF LEE, PRESIDENT AND GM, ROAD ATLANTA: He absolutely has. And now he's a new driver. So we've had all the appropriate parent conversations of do as I say, not as I do. And he reminds me of all the responsibilities involved with driving. And I hope he will pay attention to his advice as I try and heed it now these days as well.

MAURER: It is amazing how many people will say, I don't think there's one person who hasn't been in a car with somebody who has been distracted at one point or another in their life.

WALLACE: Does it help in some way because you feel like you're getting an important message out?

MAURER: I think so. Yes. I think this is a little bit my therapy.

WALLACE: If you can give any message to the Beck family, if they could hear any message for you?

MAURER: I'm just so sorry. There is nothing I would ever -- I mean, I understand. I can't imagine. I've lost people in my life and I'm just sorry. That's the hardest part to live with is that I took somebody's father and somebody's husband and somebody's grandfather, you know.

[14:40:06] WALLACE: Up next, why are we so instinctively wired to pick up our phone even when we're behind the wheel?



WALLACE: Most people will admit that doing this while driving is dangerous, and yet they do it any way. Why? Experts say it is because of the addictive nature of these devices and how our brain instinctively responds to those pings. It is like being at a cocktail party. When someone taps you on the shoulder, you need to turn around. The same is often true when you hear a ping. You need to look even when you're behind the wheel.

Before the accident that changed Laura Maurer's life, the mother of two tried to ignore the ping alerting her to an incoming text but ultimately couldn't resist it.

MAURER: It is not like I sat in my car and thought I'm going on drive distracted and hit somebody today. That's not what I was out to do.

WALLACE: Looking at that text would cause her to crash into a tractor here in rural Iowa, taking the life of a 75--years-old man.

DR. DAVID GREENFIELD, CENTER FOR INTERNET AND TECHNOLOGY ADDICTION: The reason why she answered that ping is because she felt compulsed or felt a compulsion to answer it.

[14:15:02] WALLACE: Dr. David Greenfield is the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. He says most of us would probably have done the same thing and looked at that text.

GREENFIELD: I think that conservatively, 60 to 70 percent of people are probably doing with it some frequency. What does that mean? It means that it is just Russian roulette, that some of those people are going to have accidents. Some of those people are going to be killed. And some of those people are going to kill or hurt somebody else. So is that a huge problem? I think it is. Do I think it is a public health issue? Yes, I do.

WALLACE: Our smartphones are affecting our brains without us even knowing it. When we hear the ping of an incoming text, social media update, or e-mail, our brains get a hit of dopamine, a chemical that leads to an increase in arousal, affecting energizing the reward circuitry in our brains, and that expectation of a reward, who is texting me, who tagged me on social media, leads to a higher burst of dopamine than the reward itself.

GREENFIELD: The dopamine reward centers are the same centers that has to with pleasure from eating, pleasure from sex and procreation, pleasure from drugs and alcohol. This reward circuitry is as old as time.

WALLACE: When our brains are in an elevated dopamine state caused by the expectation of a text or status update, the activated brain reward center shuts down access to another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex where most of our judgment it occurs.

GREENFIELD: It's the parts of our brain says, OK, how important is this text? Is this text worth dying for? Is this text worth killing somebody else for? The answer of course logically would be no. But if you have less access to that part of your brain, then you're not really using your judgment.

WALLACE: And while I may seem safer, using a phone hands-free can be just as dangerous. Using a handheld or hands-free device while driving, one study showed, resulted in a slower reaction time than if you were legally drunk. Simply put, we can't focus 100 percent of our attention on two things at once.

GREENFIELD: When we're online in whatever portal we're using, I don't think we're really operating in the present. We are out to lunch to some sentence.

WALLACE: Our brains also have a way of fooling us. Every time we look at social media or text or do anything else while behind the wheel and nothing bad happens, we think we will be safe if we do it again.

Why is it so darn hard to put the phone down, to not check, to ignore the ping?

GREENFIELD: Why would you put something down that's pleasurable? Why would you not do something that lights up a part of your brain that is similar to when you have sex?

WALLACE: Because you know it is dangerous?

GREENFIELD: And you know what, my message is, you have to know that. You have to know that it is bigger than you. That's really the bottom line. We like to think we're the master of our destiny. That's not true.

WALLACE: But technology which caused the problem could also help solve the problem.

SCOTT TIBBITTS, CEO/FOUNDER, KATASI: The perfect problem for a technological solution, it is like a disease and a vaccine.

WALLACE: Scott Tibbitts of Boulder, Colorado, is on a mission to prevent families from ever getting the call that their loved ones died as a result of distracted driving.

TIBBITTS: I'm over here, a scientist and an engineer. But, boy, scratch the surface, more than anything else, I'm a father.

WALLACE: Back in 2008 after Tibbitts arrived for a business meeting, he learned the person he was to meet with had been killed only hours earlier by a driver who was allegedly texting behind the wheel.

TIBBITTS: There is just this cathartic empathy for the tragedy of it. And having just driven through the intersection, and then the entrepreneur kicks in. Wow, maybe there's a solution. Maybe it is technical. Maybe there is an invention that could do this that could save a lot of lives.

WALLACE: Tibbitts' answer is called Groove, a little device that plugs into your car underneath the steering wheel. Groove alerts your mobile phone provider to hold all e-mails, texts, and social media updates and prevents you from sending messages and posting on social media while driving.

TIBBITTS: When you start driving you go into the super airplane mode where the things that would distract you go away. All of a sudden, those capabilities are not on the phone anymore. Then somebody tries to text them, and it is blocked and the person trying to text them gets a message that says Scott is driving right now. He'll get the text when he stops, when he is at the end of the trip. I turn off the key, and about 10 seconds later all my messages come in.

WALLACE: The wireless providers have their own answers, free apps downloaded to your device which silence incoming messages, sending an auto reply to your friends and family that you are driving. The apps also prevent you from texting when the car is moving, but not all apps block access to social networking.

[14:50:07] JESSE HOGGARD: Once for that driver.

WALLACE: Jesse Hoggard, chief marketing officer for Cell Control, demonstrates his company's answer to distracted driving. It is called Drive I.D.

JESSE HOGGARD, CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER, CELL CONTROL: Solar powered, it mounts to the windshield of the car right underneath and behind the rearview mirror.

WALLACE: I'm going to send you a message, Jesse. Hey, Jesse, where are you. Very important message to send while someone is driving, right? Exactly.

At a cost of $129, what it can do that the wireless providers' app can is automatically detect who is driving and who is not.

HOGGARD: And with that in place in our app on the phone or devices that you want to protect in the vehicle, we can restrict access to applications on the phone, either throughout the entire vehicle for all passengers or for just the driver.

WALLACE: OK, so Jesse, I'm going to text you and see what happens, all right. Want to meet for dinner? Another very important text, especially if you know someone is driving. When I texted you those important messages, I got that. "Jesse is currently driving and will respond to your message when the trip ends."

HOGGARD: It lets people know that not being ignored and that your friend, your kid, your colleague is being responsible.

WALLACE: Jesse then moves into the passenger seat during a drive along the track at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia.

HOGGARD: I am still able to use my phone like I normally would. So I can go to my Facebook page, my Facebook feed, and look at it like I normally would. Whereas earlier when I tried to do that in the driver's seat, it blocked me out.

WALLACE: What about the teens who think I have no problem with self-control. I'm going to figure out a way for you not to work when I'm driving so I can text my friends or check Facebook or Snapchat?

HOGGARD: So we have a room full of engineers whose jobs is to sit around and think like savvy 16 and 17 year olds, and then not only that but stay a few steps ahead of them.

WALLACE: But ultimately the technology to stop any driving while distracted may be the technology that lets drivers enjoy all the distractions they want -- technology, which removes the need for any drivers at all.

GREENFIELD: Autonomous vehicles are the new technology that will solve that problem, because if you have an autonomous vehicle that doesn't require you to attend, then you can talk on the phone all you want and do whatever you want.

WALLACE: Up next, beyond technology, what else can stop drivers dangerously driving while distracted?


[14:56:40] WALLACE: Beyond technology, what else can be done to convince people to stop checking these while behind the wheel? And 46 states and the nation's capital banned texting and driving, 14 states plus the District of Columbia make it a crime to use a handheld device while driving, and yet people break the laws all the time. What helps change behavior, experts believe, is seeing the pain caused by distracted driving.

The unthinkable -- parents lay their teenage daughter to rest after a crash in which her friends were drinking and driving and texting while behind the wheel. But thankfully this isn't real life. It's a program called "Choices." Every choice comes with a price. Created by the Acadia Parish sheriff's office in Louisiana nearly 200 high school students participate in a mock crash and act out the consequences afterward. The video is then shown in high schools throughout the community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going read you your rights. OK, what's going on?

WALLACE: It sounds so simple. Don't use you phone while driving. Seeing the consequences helps drive the point home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The 360 experience.

WALLACE: In Long Island, New York, another approach to get the message out. Students take a ride on the distracted driving simulator and see how quickly things can go wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It may seem like I'm sending a text to my friend, no big deal. Next thing you know, you're swerving into the person next to you.

WALLACE: That moment of impact, what was that like for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it was a simulator, but that could be real life.

WALLACE: A captivated audience, more than 400 high school seniors watch the latest video from AT&T's "It Can Wait" public service campaign. In the video instead of texting, a mom looks at a photo on Facebook before the tragic crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't until I watched the video that I finally saw like how much damage you could do to a person.

WALLACE: Do you think, wow, that could have been my friends, people I know?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The amazing thing was the silence in the room while those videos played. I feel like they held such a great weight on everyone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was my friend who got hurt, I would be beside myself.

WALLACE: For Matt Boeve, who lost his wife to a distracted driver, and Laura Maurer, who killed a grandfather while glancing at a text, speaking up can save lives.

MAURER: It can wait. There is nothing worth it, nothing that important, and realize that it's our lives on the hand.

BOEVE: Andrea was always trying to make things better. She was a fixer, a doer. That's why I'm doing this, to get the word out that distracted driving is a major offense. It is something that can change lives, and it changed ours.

WALLACE: Raising awareness, no doubt, is something we all can do to try to stop distracted driving. For more information on our series and this critical issue, please go to

Thanks so much for watching. I'm Kelly Wallace.