The NHTSA is currently trying to figure out how or whether to ban handheld devices like smartphones from use in cars. And the automakers are supporting such a ban or at least some restrictions.
But they are also very concerned that such a ban might force them to redesign their built-in systems. What a shame that would be.
No one should be surprised that a recent British study confirms that smartphone use while driving is much more dangerous than driving drunk. With a test group of 17-24-year-old drivers fooling around on Facebook, their reaction time slowed by about 38 percent. (Blood alcohol at the legal limit slowed reaction time by 12.5 percent.)
They missed “key events,” wandered out of lane, and failed to respond to speed changes by a car in front. About 25 percent of drivers admitted to texting or social networking while driving. I’ll bet it’s more in the U.S.
None of this, in fact, is very surprising. Nor is it surprising that mobile multitasking, as much as some people love it, is clearly addictive and distracting. If you’ve observed how young people operate with these devices, you get the picture.
In a New York jazz club the other night, this gorgeous young thing comes in solo, orders and eats a steak, drinks red wine, emails from her iPhone constantly, plays with some packages she’s brought in—all while “listening” to a blaring 14-piece band—and leaves in 15 minutes.
Can you imagine how she drives a car?
On the technical side, I found a very detailed discussion of whether, why and how smartphones can integrate into cars. In brief, automakers are finally (maybe) heeding the call for safety. In-car computer systems are far better equipped to handle safety, performance and driving functions.
But there are those who dislike the built-in system, or want to bring in their own Android solutions (for example) to which they are already addicted—their music, their Facebook, their electronic life, which is way more important than the necessary evil of driving a car.
Another thing: If we are going to live with infotainment systems in cars, they will need to be updated regularly, and carmakers are going to have to provide updates—perhaps as Ford did recently to its SYNC system by sending users a flash drive.
And I suppose smartphones will evolve from the fussy, complicated and often nonfunctional devices of the present to something that can be plugged into a car and integrate with the onboard system, maybe even offering updates.
But none of this is going to change the course of our electronic addiction.
Am I being too jaundiced about the effects of electronic infotainment in cars? Will the distractions owing to this stuff ever get remedied?