Driven to Distraction by Apple’s CarPlay?


April is Dis­tract­ed Dri­ving Aware­ness Month, but maybe the news hasn’t reached Apple yet. In recent­ly announc­ing CarPlay, Apple said it was ‘giv­ing  dri­vers  a smarter, safer & more fun way to use iPhone in the car.’ Real­ly?

By Michael Sheldrick, Senior Edi­tor, Fleet Man­age­ment Week­ly

Last month at the Gene­va Auto Show, Apple announced that a num­ber of OEMS — Fer­rari, Mer­cedes-Benz, and Vol­vo showed imple­men­ta­tions of Apple CarPlay.  Since then, Hyundai announced that it will incor­po­rate CarPlay in the 2015 Sonata, avail­able some­time this sum­mer. Hon­da is also slat­ed to release an imple­men­ta­tion, although a mod­el hasn’t been named.

Apple is mak­ing much of the reduced ease with which com­mon in-vehi­cle info­tain­ment activ­i­ties can be com­plet­ed, includ­ing music, text-to-speech, hands-free voice calls, and maps and direc­tions. It appears that only these apps will appear on a dash­board sim­u­lat­ed iPhone, although Apple doesn’t say if oth­ers can be dis­played or used — Can­dy Crush, for exam­ple.

Join­ing the parade are after­mar­ket sup­pli­ers Alpine and Pio­neer. The lat­ter had the good grace to add the fol­low­ing foot­note — in very fine print — to its announce­ment, avail­able here “Note: do not use your Pio­neer sys­tem if doing so will divert your atten­tion in any way from the safe oper­a­tion of your vehi­cle. Always observe safe dri­ving rules.”

Many safe­ty experts might say that advice, if metic­u­lous­ly fol­lowed, would result in no use of the Pio­neer unit, Siri pow­ered CarPlay or not.

“Our research shows that hands-free is not risk-free,” says Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah psy­chol­o­gy Pro­fes­sor David Stray­er, lead author of the study, which he con­duct­ed for the foun­da­tion arm of the non­prof­it AAA, for­mer­ly known as the Amer­i­can Auto­mo­bile Asso­ci­a­tion.

“These new, speech-based tech­nolo­gies in the car can over­load the driver’s atten­tion and impair their abil­i­ty to dri­ve safe­ly,” says Stray­er. “An unin­tend­ed con­se­quence of try­ing to make dri­ving safer – by mov­ing to speech-to-text, in-vehi­cle sys­tems – may actu­al­ly over­load the dri­ver and make them less safe.”

These warn­ings may well be ignored as the demand for more and more sophis­ti­cat­ed info­tain­ment increas­es. Apple has a dozen or more part­ners who have at least announced their inten­tion of mak­ing CarPlay avail­able in their vehi­cles. Google and Microsoft are also vying for spots in the car, and the OEMs them­selves may agree on a plat­form that will allow phone mak­ers to their smart phones to be plugged in, but with con­trol of the inter­face still in the hands of the automak­ers.

Apple has been tout­ing CarPlay as safer than exist­ing info­tain­ment sys­tems, and that may be true, but mak­ing dis­trac­tive activ­i­ties eas­i­er to use only adds to dis­tract­ed dri­ving. With CarPlay, the issue has just become more com­plex. Now it’s not mere­ly a mat­ter of for­bid­ding talk­ing or tex­ting while dri­ving, in some cas­es even hands free.

Of course, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dis­trac­tion in a vehi­cle are almost end­less. Think eat­ing, drink­ing, tun­ing the radio, read­ing, apply­ing make­up, shav­ing, etc. What have we for­got­ten?  This lat­est chal­lenge to the driver’s undi­vid­ed atten­tion will only become more intense in the future.

There are no easy solu­tions at hand.  Steve Teix­eira, direc­tor of pro­gram man­age­ment for Microsoft’s Inter­net of Things oper­at­ing sys­tems group, told, “There’s actu­al­ly some research … that says that you real­ly have about two sec­onds to take your eyes off the road before the chances of some­thing colos­sal­ly bad hap­pen­ing go very high,” he said. “So when you build a user inter­face that is designed to sit in a mov­ing car, it needs to be opti­mized for this less-than-2-sec­ond glance­abil­i­ty fac­tor.”

We don’t what colos­sal­ly bad real­ly means, but some safe­ty experts that seri­ous, even fatal acci­dents can occur with­in that glance. With­in those 2 sec­onds, at 60 mph, the vehi­cle has already trav­eled almost 60 yards. If an acci­dent is devel­op­ing, stop­ping at that point —60 yards down the road, will take anoth­er 80 yards or so, depend­ing on a lot of fac­tors — reac­tion time, road con­di­tions, weight of the vehi­cle, con­di­tion of the brakes, etc.

Deter­min­ing the actu­al num­ber of crash­es due to dis­tract­ed dri­ving is dif­fi­cult, because of oppor­tu­ni­ties for dis­trac­tion. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion esti­mat­ed that in 2011, there were over 3,000 deaths attrib­ut­able to dis­tract­ed dri­ving and more than 380,000 injuries. More­over, the CDC esti­mat­ed that 1 in 5 crash­es was due to dis­trac­tion.

The answer is sim­ple. We des­per­ate­ly need the autonomous car. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we can’t be sure when we’ll get one, even with­in our life­times. Some of the dri­ver warn­ing sys­tems may pro­vide a warn­ing if some­one is dri­ving errat­i­cal­ly.  But they can’t dimin­ish the need for alert dri­vers with their hands on the wheel, their eyes on the road, and their minds on the task at hand.

So, for the moment, we’re back to dri­ver train­ing and edu­ca­tion and cre­at­ing safe dri­ver behav­ior. In upcom­ing issues we will offer a series of arti­cles that will home in on the issues sur­round­ing dis­tract­ed dri­ving, and how to pre­vent your dri­vers and your com­pa­ny from becom­ing vic­tims of dis­tract­ed dri­ving.





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