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The "wired car" can drive you to distraction on the Internet

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If you were a working author trying to think of a headline for a piece on the Internet and distracted driving, it might take a few minutes, but you would likely come up with a headline such as: “The “Wired Car” could drive you to distraction on the Internet”

Let's analyze the headline. First you are discussing the auto industry's headlong rush to be the first on the road with an Internet-linked vehicle (Jeep and Hyundai have already won this race) or “wired car”. Next, the headline indicates that the “wired car”could be another in the many causes of distracted driving

In an investigative article that appeared on The Examiner.com, the potential sources of distracted driving were examined and it was found that while the two leading causes of distracted driving are cellphone use or smart phone use and texting, other, potential causes of distraction are just around the corner as cars are linked to the Internet.

Potential for distraction pool widens

The Examiner.com article points out that while today's leading causes of distracted driving are cellphone use and texting (to the point where it has proven fatal to pedestrians), there is a new potential leading cause waiting in the wings, the Internet-ready car.

CD/Net, a leading CBS-owned internet technology site, pointed out that the “wired” or Internet-ready car is nearly here. In a recent technology piece, the site pointed out that Google is ready to accommodate roadway work commandos (these are usually drivers who make the most use of cellphones and texting while they are in heavy traffic. Their excuse is that they are crucial to their companies' business operations and without them, the companies would cease to function).

To that end, Google has developed an Android-powered Internet-ready vehicle that handles the “mundane tasks” of:

  • Driving in the city
  • Driving in the country
  • Driving on the Interstate
  • Merging with traffic
  • Changing lanes
  • Exiting the roadway
  • Passing other vehicles
  • Stopping for school buses
  • Finding the destination address

The Google-created test vehicle takes a large burden off the shoulders of the roadway commando type as he or she is relieved of the necessity of piloting the vehicles from their homes to their offices or from their offices to appointments.

There's a slight problem, a recent CBS News report indicated, and it is that the Google-created testbed is nowhere near ready for prime time yet. In other words, the roadway commando crew still has the “mundane tasks” of piloting their vehicles even as they try to use their “windshield time” for productive work.

The roadway commando seems to believe that others in the world have to watch out for them, rather than vice versa. (In a related news story this week, a Massachusetts locality has cracked down on crosswalk scofflaws – those who ignore the $200-fine mandatory stop law for pedestrians in crosswalks – and just blast right on through those crosswalks only to find a police officer waiting on the other side who pulls the scofflaw over.

(A WBZ-TV Boston reporter talked with some of those who were caught in the sting and the violators indicated that the city was way out of line using what they believed was entrapment to ticket them. More than one person who looked like an executive in a high-tech firm was quite annoyed with the thought they had to stop at all and believed that the city was doing something illegal.

Charges traded

(The police chief fired back by indicating those who just drove through crosswalks were automatically considered wrong by the law as the pedestrian does have the right of way. Of course, the people who received the tickets (over $40,000 in a week), also believed that cars had the right of way everywhere in the state and they questioned whether the whole action was legal.

(Interestingly, more than one scofflaw was on the phone when they blew through the crosswalk, more than once narrowly missing the police department employee who spent the day walking back and forth. WBZ-TV is Boston's CBS outlet).

The belief that their work entitled them to use their phone for either talking or texting because they were so crucial to their business is a fine conceit to have, however the roadway work commando crew should watch out for two things:

  1. That they don't hurt themselves or someone else because they take their eyes off the road to use the devices they have now.
  2. That though they believe that without their work their firms would cease to function, if they were to lose their “key” positions, their firms would cruise along without them quite nicely. Still, they practice distracted driving by using the cellphones and smart phones and text.

Now, if you were to add an “Internet-ready” vehicle to the mix, you are creating a nightmare scenario because you are adding another networking device that takes even more of an operator's time from the roadway ahead.

Studies back distracted driving

As C/D Net has pointed out, use of current technology poses a real threat to the driving public. Adding Internet-ready vehicles to the mix increases the threat.

To back this up, let's look at a study run the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2009. During the calendar year 2009, the authors of the study found that nearly 1,000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents caused by cellphone usage.

A 2011 study, the “National phone Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors,” found that 60 percent of all drivers used cellphones or texted, though the jurisdictions they were driving in, at the time, made the use of cellphones or texting illegal. Drivers believed it was their right to text or use his or her cellphone as they pleased.

(If one were to ask the same drivers whether driving was a right or a privilege in this state, they would find that most people believe driving is their right not a privilege. They would be very surprised to look at today's driver testing material that shows it is the other way around.

This information, alone, indicates there are serious attitude problems among Massachusetts drivers. Indeed, in a brief interview with a firefighter/EMT, who asked for anonymity, agreed with the assessment that Massachusetts drivers have serious attitude problems.

"That is really dumb!"

When told that Internet-ready cars would be available by the end of the year from just about every auto manufacturer, all the firefighter/EMT could do was shake his head and state emphatically: “That is really dumb!”

His comment was debated those firms developing vehicles that are rolling Internet hotspots. The firms include Toyota, Ford and Jeep. They believe that “Internet-ready” vehicles, rather than being driving distractions are actually beneficial.

The auto industry believes that Internet-ready vehicles are benefits for the firms that purchase because it allows the purchasing firm to:

  • Monitor all car systems automatically.
  • Find problems before they occur.
  • Change vehicle system configurations as needed.

With this much control over its vehicles, firms can now have a more positive attitude as they can see if any employee is abusing the privilege of having a company car or is just using the vehicle as it should be for company business.

Higher level of distraction

What the company fails to see is that this added responsibility really just raises the level of driver distraction.

Think of it this way: because the firm requires its road commandos to use their cellphones or smart phones no matter where they are and no matter what they are doing (a recent incident at a local supermarket parking lot indicates just how distracting cellphones are is shown by this incident: a pedestrian, seeing a driver speeding into a supermarket parking lot, her cellphone clapped to her ear, stopped in his tracks because he didn't want to become a statistic. One would think that the driver of the nine-passenger SUV would have slowed down on entering the parking lot, but she didn't and she didn't notice the cars that were bearing down her nor did she notice pedestrians. She just sped by on her merry way to park her oversized land ark, oblivious to the stares and comments of those nearby. This is a very common attitude of Massachusetts drivers).

Imagine, then, what will happen in this state when drivers who ignore the state's distracted driving penalties by continuing their cellphones and texting, have rolling Internet connections to play with, too. Using the interface alone on a seven-inch touchscreen full of applications is frightening enough.

Postings on Slashdot.com put the situation quite well. Not only did they describe Volkswagen's Internet-ready car planning in the postings, but they also asked: “When will the care [sic] industry stop trying to make vehicles more like mobile homes? They spend all that time and money in crash tests, but then turn around and add distractions that can only be detrimental. Certainly, people can do without these features while they're commuting from place to place.”

That pretty much spells out an impending land rush by the auto industry to be first to have an Internet-linked car on the market. Imagine having your choice of cellphone or smart phone, calls and texts and a larger (roughly seven inches) touch screen that would be able to stream video or maps or other information, as well as GPS/navigation information taking a sizable chunk of your attention. It is a situation that gives highway planners and police officials sleepless nights as they try to figure out how to ensure that people drive safely, remembering that distracted driving is only going to get worse.

You can find further information on “distracted driving” at http://www.safecar.info/seasonal-allergies-as-distracted-driving.

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