Car-Tech Tuesday: Technology and Driver Safety should Make Love, Not War
- 02/21/2012 |
- by Doug Newcomb |
- Total Car News / Technology
Everybody has an opinion on distracted driving, and many also have some sort of cure. The latter usually has something to do with banning all portable electronics from vehicles. Good luck with that, and tell it to the people who thought radios would be too distracting to drivers. And good luck trying to ban all distracted driving behaviors – eating, reading, shaving, talking to passengers, applying makeup – or trying to enforce laws against it.
The federal government, of course, has had lots to say about the issue – and plenty of taxpayer money to throw at the problem. The latest example is the proposed first-ever guidelines issued last week by the DOT “to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices.” The voluntary guidelines apply to “communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.”
The guidelines were issued by the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to “establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers.” President Obama's threw his weight behind the guidelines and a proposed $330 million over six years to fund distracted driving programs “that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.”
While the feds can and should be proactive about distracted driving and the potential carnage it can cause on our roads, trying to put the tech genie back in the bottle won’t work. And despite his earlier calls for an unrealistic, blanket cell phone ban and finger-pointing aimed at carmakers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood – unlike some government officials – now realizes that, “The choice between ensuring drivers are safe and including cutting-edge features in cars is false. We can and we must do both,” he said.
Like it or not, many people today are addicted to their smartphones and being connected 24/7. We can argue about whether that’s a good or bad thing, but it doesn’t change the trend and their (our?) behavior. In the same way some people are addicted to fast food, which isn’t likely to change either. And some people use technology responsibly behind the wheel and some people eat fast food only occasionally and moderately. While you can blame automakers for encouraging bad behavior behind the wheel, as some safety advocates do, that’s the same sort of logic that blames McDonald’s for making people unhealthy and obese.
Selling cars or fast food is an extremely competitive business, and companies are going to offer products that people want to buy. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have hamburger joints educate customers on what they’re putting in their bodies and also offer healthy alternatives. And that doesn’t mean that automakers shouldn’t warn drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and lock out certain features when the car is in motion. Both businesses are already doing that, while balancing staying competitive with being responsible. And it comes down to people – whether in their diet or in the way they drive – being responsible for their own actions.
My opinion? I view car technology as a potential cure for distracted driving, since the alternative – and we’ve all seen it on the highway – is people looking down at their portable device while driving. And from my perspective, I don’t have a problem with automakers investing millions of R&D resources into providing tech features that consumers want, especially if it’s also going into technology that makes cars safer to drive. And as automakers struggle to figure out how to best incorporate smartphones and other technology into our cars you can bet we’re still seeing the 1.0 version. It will only get better.
As I’ve said, I don’t have a solution. At least not until we have driverless cars. And that’s not too far off.