Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Honk if you love Jesus...

...Text if you want to meet him."

Amusing bumper-sticker a friend of mine recently saw.  I think it accurately encapsulates many people's thoughts on Texting while driving.  It's also very interesting to note how many of us do it.  I think it's one of those hypocritical things humans think where "everyone else is a danger, but not me--I'm the exception."  Rules are always made for everyone else.

Infotainment systems are starting to have a wide array of capabilities--certainly we're creating technologies that provide people with more productivity, more connectivity, and more entertainment than ever before.  Most people see this new technology as a good thing, but also understand the inherent risks of driver distraction.  It seems that the most vocal combatants of using in-vehicle technologies are from older generations.  The younger you are, and the more you take the Internet for granted, the less likely you are to see texting or calling or computer use while in travel as a problem.

Some driver distraction issues can be solved by system improvements like providing more intuitive and multi-modal (voice, button, touch) interfaces, by limiting what can be done while driving, by having smart systems that understand driver workload and scale back when necessary, or by providing configurable options to let drivers control their own environment.  At the same time that technologies within the car will continue to improve to assist the driver. Adaptive cruise control and tail gating prevention, lane departure warnings, and further driver assistance technologies will expand and become standard features to help the driver stay focused.

I think the long term shift will be a combined societal and technical view.  People will come to accept this informational bombardment and learn to work with it.  As an example, look at the changes in societal views towards driving under the influence.  Any movie from the 40's through the 60's shows an incredible caviler attitude towards alcohol. They don't seem to recognize it as a danger at all.  There was no peer pressure, no fatality statistics, no laws, no personal tragedies, all forces combining to cut down on drunk driving.  Today, albeit not perfectly so, people are in large part self-policing.  They understand the risks and dangers, and although there are still fatalities, the public stigma and peer pressure keep the number of violators down.

If anything, technology use in the car will expand, not shrink.  Today's youngsters are growing up with multitasked driving as part of their mental framework.  By the time that all today's teenagers become senators and parliamentarians, I'd expect that all laws about texting while driving will have repealed, and cars will practically drive themselves.

Except for the personal helicopters--you'll still have to pilot those yourself.  And they'll be hands-free only.


  1. Will tail-gating prevention, lane departure warnings, and other driver-assistance technologies really help drivers stay focused? Or will such features lull them into thinking that they can shift their attention to other things... like texting.

    I'm not against such technologies per se; I just think we need to be aware of their real benefits and/or drawbacks.

    In the long run, we need to teach and encourage young drivers to be self-aware, to listen to their own mental state -- this is more important than any law or technology, imho. For instance, it isn't against the law to listen to music while driving. But I know that if I listen to, say, Jimi Hendrix, I get very distracted. Jimmy Buffet, not so much.

    Know thyself; more specifically, know what distracts you and behave accordingly. Of course, this assumes a society where people are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions... and we seem a little weak on that front.

  2. Love the subject line intro. I have seen a billboard with that saying. anyway great blog. I agree with Paul. . . I can email and drive perfectly as long as my wife isn't sitting next to me distracting me by yelling about my doing email while driving. It is only then that I am dangerous. To quote G.I. Joe: "knowing (thyself) is half the battle"