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 Techrepublic.com, “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.