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Can laws stop distracted driving if we won't?

There is an interesting article in the February 2014 edition of Automotive News titled “Can laws stop distracted driving if we won’t?” The article revolves around the fact that even though there are laws against texting-and-driving and drinking-and-driving, people do it anyway despite serious safety and financial consequences – so we should expect the same with connected car technology. The article goes on to say that government legislation of connected car technology, and the OEMs deploying it, would be ineffective because there are larger societal issues at hand.

Airbiquity, a company that develops connected car technology for leading automotive OEMs couldn’t agree more. We think the government should encourage technology companies like Airbiquity, and our automotive OEM customers, to continue to develop and deploy innovative technology to reduce driver distraction and accelerate safety improvements. The article also mentions big businesses being critiqued for putting potentially distracting technology in cars for profits, but did not mention the possibility that technology in cars can actually enhance driver engagement while reducing distracted driving.

Given our role in connected car services, Airbiquity routinely deals with concerns about technology and the policies and laws intended to help mitigate driver distraction. For example, our technology and integration approach ensures application features like keyboards are disabled on the head unit touch screen when the car is in motion, and that voice recognition and text-to-speech is used to keep the driver’s eyes on the road at all times. However, this is just the start - technology can and will be progressively improved. A prime example is the Renault Anti-Collision and Driving Aid System with lane assist and automatic breaking features for commercial truck drivers, especially trucks hauling hazardous materials. This technology gauges the speed of other vehicles and adjusts accordingly, as well as issues alerts if drivers cross out of their lane unexpectedly.

The ways that technology can improve safety and eliminate distracted driving are limitless. There are mind-blowing uses of technology in other industry sectors that could have additional benefit when brought into a connected car. For example, retailers are turning to “smart mirrors” to gauge what products consumers are drawn to, how long they stare at them, and to read their facial expressions to determine reaction to specific products and offers. If this is possible in stores, why not the car? It won’t be long until the technology exists to track a driver’s eye movements and alert them to a pedestrian or bicyclist that may be in danger of being harmed. Driver fatigue could also be measured through facial expression after which a car’s navigation system could recommend a nearby hotel or coffee shop for a driving break. Using technology to create more alert and safer drivers is a trend that will and should continue into the future.

So can laws stop distracted driving if we won’t? Based on historical analysis, it appears not. But a combination of increased driver awareness about how to safely use connected car technology and continued technology innovation seem like a strong combination to make steady progress. Take seat belts for example. A few decades ago the usage rate of seatbelts was much less than today, and the seat belt system itself was much less user-friendly (uncomfortable, manual adjustments, etc.). But since then drivers have become aware of the need to use seat belts, and seat belt systems are vastly improved (comfortable, self-adjusting, etc.). The same thing will happen with connected car technology.

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