NMA E-Newsletter #128: For Your Own Good

Caving to pressure from a few U.S. senators, Apple Inc. and Research in Motion (of Blackberry fame) recently began restricting the availability of mobile phone and PDA apps that alert motorists to roadblock locations not publicized by police.

Despite vehement protests from those who treasure constitutional rights, the NMA included, neither company has backed down from their stance of backing down to government pressure.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has taken a hard line on the issue: “New technologies do not fit with my high standard of zero distractions in vehicles, period.”

Such a zero tolerance policy is troublesome. It should be noted that some studies have shown certain secondary tasks can actually help bored drivers pay better attention to the road.

Mobile network operators and auto manufacturers are moving forward with applications that aim to lessen the number of distractions that the wired (or should we say “wireless?”) driver can be exposed to:

  • T-Mobile has DriveSmart, an app that freezes the screens of cell phones in moving vehicles and reroutes calls directly to voicemail.
  • Sprint will be introducing a similar app, Drive First, later this year.
  • Mercedes-Benz has started offering SplitView, which restricts the driver to “task appropriate” content on the onboard display while allowing a front-seat passenger to view a wider range of selections.
  • Not to be outdone, Ford has a “do not disturb” option on its MyFord Touch system which locks out certain in-car communications and entertainment content.

We agree, cars shouldn’t become rolling communications/entertainment centers that take away an inordinate amount of a driver’s attention to the road. However, a ban on useful technology is short-sighted and probably futile.

The benefits of GPS technology, for example, are undeniable. A driver who knows with confidence precisely where he/she is going, particularly when traveling in unfamiliar environs, is a safer driver. The same may be argued for other devices and applications available to today’s motorist, including warnings about traffic congestion, safety hazards ahead, construction zones, and yes, about speed traps and photo enforcement zones.

P.S. Supporting members of the NMA will find a two-page table in the Summer issue of Driving Freedoms that summarizes current state and province laws regarding the use of electronic devices while driving.

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