Self-Driving Cars, Connected Car Technology, and Distracted Driving

by Matt Klassen on February 24, 2016

6a00d83451b3c669e201a3fceb0565970b-800wiFor the last year or so we’ve been witness to the advent of the connected car, as companies like Google, Apple and others hit the streets with futuristic self-driving cars. But the fact of the matter is that there will be years of testing and re-testing and honing such vehicle technology before it will ever crack the consumer market, and in the meantime tech and automotive companies around the world are bringing various other wireless technologies into the driving experience, finding new (and infinitely more distracting) ways to keep us connected at every moment.

The only problem, as I see it, is that such companion connectivity projects—like Apple’s CarPlay or Google’s in-car Android platform—are putting the cart before the horse, as it were, creating new ways for drivers to become distracted while we all wait for the day when cars will drive themselves and distractions will no longer matter.

In fact, according to studies conducted in 2015, voice-command technologies—so-called “hands free” texting or calling for instance—can interfere with driver attention for almost 30 seconds after use, meaning that when travelling at 40 km/h for instance, a driver would travel the length of almost three football fields before returning their attention to the road.

So the next time you see a commercial touting the joys of in-car 4G LTE or CarPlay interface, take a moment and remember that these technologies can be as dangerous, if not more in some cases, as actually staring at your phone (meaning don’t do either!).

“Most people think, ‘I hang up and I’m good to go,’” said David Strayer, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and senior author of the paper reporting the results of the studies, in a press release from several months ago “But that’s just not the case. We see it takes a surprisingly long time to come back to full attention.”

According to previous research that graded the distracting nature of in-car activities (other than driving), on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the least distracting, 5 being the most), Microsoft’s Cortana system scored the worst (3.8 for making calls, 4.1 for texting), while Siri was close behind (3.4 and 3.7), with Google slightly better (3.0 and 3.3). By comparison, using a regular hands-on cell phone ranked at 2.5 and listening to the radio ranked 1.2.

The simple fact is that in-car infotainment and connected platforms aren’t suitable enough to accommodate the driving experience, meaning they are confusing or engaging enough to overly distract drivers and create dangerous driving situations.

“The voice-command technology isn’t ready,” said Joel Cooper, a research assistant professor of psychology at the University of Utah. “It’s in the cars and is billed as a safe alternative to manual interactions with your car, but the voice systems simply don’t work well enough.”

The only problem, of course, is that such in-car connectivity projects are really only secondary projects, the sort of companion technology we’ll likely want to utilize when we no longer have to actually drive our cars, except that the companion technology is here first, when we’re still forced to actually pay attention to what we’re doing behind the wheel.

So while the growing deployment of autonomous vehicle systems, including fully self-driving vehicles, may help mitigate or eliminate the dangers of distracted driving, the problem is that they’re still a long way off, yet the distractions themselves are here in spades, meaning perhaps we should all think twice about staying connected while driving, it’s clearly not as safe as we’re being told.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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