By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, July 21, 2009 at 11:47 am
The New York Times has published a scary article reporting that in 2003, the U.S. Department of Transportation came to the conclusion that talking on the phone while driving–even with a hands-free kit–was alarmingly distracting and dangerous. (In 2002, about 955 fatalities resulted from cell phone use while driving.) The DoT was afraid of ticking off Congress and never did much with its research, the Times charges.
The Times says that some studies have shown that yakking on the phone while behind the wheel can be as risky as driving under the influence of alcohol. Which inevitably leads to the question, if it’s as dangerous as drunk driving, should it be just as illegal?
And that’s only one of the questions that the Times story left me asking myself. In gizmo time, 2003 was several generations ago. Today’s wireless phones don’t just let you make calls–they provide driving directions, music, movies, social networking, and a lot more. I assume that we can all agree that you shouldn’t watch Hancock or update your Twitter status while in the driver’s seat of a moving vehicle. (If you don’t agree, I hope you steer clear of highways 101 and 280 in Northern California.) But what about GPS? Or using your phone as a radio, especially if you switch channels at 60mph?
Here in California, we have a law that mandates use of hands-free kits and forbids texting. You may be stunned to hear that it’s widely ignored and hard to enforce. It also seems a tad outdated and confusing: It says it’s “an infraction to write, send, or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device.” Does that refer to text messaging, or to just about anything that involves reading or writing of text on a gadget?
And hey, is my built-in GPS navigation system any safer than one I might use on my iPhone?
I’m still sorting out my feelings here. I don’t want to be killed by someone who ploughed into my car while reading TMZ. Nor do I wish to kill anyone else while editing video on my iPhone. But I’m worried about prohibitionism, too. (Yes, outlawing the use of wireless devices while driving–including hands-free use–would save lives. Then again, so would outlawing driving.)
What’s your take on all this? Any ideas on how technology can help solve the problem? Is voice recognition part of the solution?