This 21st century world with its enumerable social gadgets intertwined on the Web make driving hazardous. Our world is accustomed to life on the go via LinkedIn, blog postings, Facebook “likes”, and e-mail in our pockets. Our society is in need of status updates, real-time collaboration, video calls and electronic social gratification both at work and in our personal lives.
Online distractions like texting and driving, though, can be very dangerous and deadly as shown in the recently reported double-tragedy of a teen who was convicted of motor vehicle homicide as a result of texting while driving in an event resulting in the death of another driver. There is little doubt that the sentence imposed by the judge was strict and meant to send a message of deterrence to the public in an attempt to curb texting and driving.
What may seem surprising to some, however, is the response from the Transportation Department (DOT). I listened to a story on National Public Radio (NPR) last Thursday entitled, Texting and Driving Bans May Make Roads Less Safe by Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish. NPR reported that, “Thirty-nine states have rushed in recent years to pass bans on texting while driving like the one used to convict the Massachusetts teenager. Secretary LaHood says the remaining states should hurry up and follow suit. And he announced a $2.5 million grant to beef up enforcement”
Furthermore, Neal Conan of NPR reported the same day on “Talk of the Nation on “What'd Make You Stop Texting While Driving?” In it he reported that:
“Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood earlier suggested technology to disable cell phones in vehicles. There's a lot of technology out there now, he said, which can disable phones. We're looking at that, he said on MSNBC, the possibility - I think it will be done, said Ray LaHood. I think the technology is there, and I think you're going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable cell phones. We do need to do this a lot more if we're going to save lives.”
Obviously there is a real threat that needs to be addressed; there is no question on the danger. However, a ban of specific types of technology or restricting driving freedom is not a real solution. Disabling cell phones in vehicles is just a bad idea and can have unintended consequences. Just briefly aftermarket hacks and scenarios where someone experiences their own tragedy because they are unable to access their cell phone to call a loved one in an emergency. Just imagine the “What if....” situations.
Still it does not really address the distraction issue. According to the NPR report, “Russ Rader is with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which does research for insurers. He says laws can even backfire as drivers try to hide their phones lower down in their lap. Also, he says cellphone bans can only do so much since cellphones are only a small fraction of what distracts drivers.”
Russ goes on to say, “there is dispute about whether any law can actually get drivers to put down their phones…Distracted driving is as old as driving. And whether it's putting on lipstick, or reading the newspaper, or reaching into the backseat for the MP3 player, all those things are distracting. So focusing on phone use will have limited effect on reducing crashes.”
Furthermore according to futurist Michio Kaku, we will, in the not-so-different future, have “millions of chips in all our possessions: furniture, cars, appliances, clothes”. Today it may be a phone ban, but where does the ban stop or start for other devices? Are we going to disable all devices and gadgets going forward too? What about scenarios not involving vehicles that can be just as deadly such as pedestrians walking down a busy street while distracted while texting?
There is, however, a historically proven and practical approach to staying safe online while on the go. It’s the model that’s been used for year’s successfully with other safety technologies in vehicles. If we decide legislation of technology is required to solve the problem of the distracted driver, then let’s legislate an enabling technology solution.
There are plenty of examples of legislation enforcing the provision of a technology that will then create a safer driving environment without impeding our freedoms. Whether you like them or not, most modern cars come with seat belts and air bags as a result of mandated legislation. Though some would argue that seat belts limit freedom, a seat belt can easily be un-latched or air bags disabled as needed for required scenarios while driving or dealing with internal distractions. Furthermore, seat belts, air bags, tail lights, emergency flashers, catalytic converters, and anti-lock brakes are safety features that are built-in to the motorist’s ecosystem. All cars come with these safety features and a plethora of other technology designed to keep motorists safe and healthy while driving. The usage of the technology is enforced by laws, but the technology does not have to be purchased or installed aftermarket.
How many of us, despite the risks, would go out and buy a driver-side air bag for an older car without one and install it? If we decide legislation of technology is required, then draft a legal solution that resolves the problem. If hands-free technology solves the problem, why not make hands-free technology required components of ALL modern vehicles. Then train motorists how to use the enabling technology rather than restricting freedoms with an un-proven cell-phone disabling technology or banning cell phones in vehicles.
Combine the new technology with a strong public awareness campaign similar to the designated driver message done for DUIs that will promote change in risky behaviors. In either case, let’s take advantage of safe technology like Microsoft Sync which let you keep your eyes on the road and make hands-free technology mandatory in all cars. If we need to draft legislation to solve this difficult and epidemic problem; let’s embrace safer technology to address the real issue which are distractions as a result of the cell phone form-factor.
Once the technology is available everywhere, then we can enforce laws to mandate hands-free use as we do with seat belts and turn signals, and people will mostly comply because it’s simple-to-use, safe and readily available in every vehicle. In the meantime, check out Microsoft Sync.
Note: Just to be clear, even though I provide a link to Microsoft Sync, I am not suggesting (or implying) that Microsoft Sync (or any specific branded hands-free technology) should be the solution. I suspect there could be many types of competitive technologies available in the vehicle market.