Johannesburg - The technology we think is keeping us connected and plugged into life and our communities is killing us on the roads. In South Africa, cellphone use while driving is linked to 25 percent of car crashes, according to Discovery Insure data. Ahead of the December holidays and the traditional holiday spike in road deaths, Arrive Alive spokesman Johan Jonck says it’s critical that motorists do not allow technology to distract them while they are at the wheel.

Jonck says there are new technologies aimed at encouraging safer smartphone use while driving. “Developers are working on apps that stop or limit calls to a few important numbers chosen by a cellphone owner, only answerable through hands-free options,” he says.

One that helps drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel is TextDrive. The Android app has an auto-reply for incoming texts, blocks incoming calls and sends a text message informing the caller that the user is busy.

“If we can limit the use of cellular devices while driving, and keep both hands on the steering wheel and both eyes on the road, we can reduce crashes while driving,” adds Jonck.

When texting, drivers are distracted while reading a message and thinking of a reply.

South Africa has among the worst road trauma statistics in the world, with at least 17 000 people killed and 68 000 people seriously injured each year. Cellphone usage while driving is one of the three main causes of road accidents in the country, along with drinking and driving and speeding.

Research also shows that a person's ability to process moving images decreases 33 percent when talking on a cellphone, texting or e-mailing while driving.

A current lawsuit in the US relating to a fatal 2013 crash in Texas has raised questions about why cellphone makers, who have developed “lock-out” or “cut-off” technology for motorists, are not applying it more widely. The case refers to an incident in which a woman who was texting while driving smashed into another car, killing the driver and leaving a child paralysed.

“The golden rule is to avoid calls while driving and, if you need to, only answer a call if it is a hands-free conversation,” Jonck says.

Saturday Star