The Irresistable Device Meets the Immovable Force

It’s fair to say that I like cars, as the proud owner of a 1964 Austin Healey 3000, Mark III (Phase 2).  It’s fair to say that I like computer-type stuff, being a blawger and all.  It’s fair to say that the subject of this New York Times article scares the daylights out of me.

To the dismay of safety advocates already worried about driver distraction, automakers and high-tech companies have found a new place to put sophisticated Internet-connected computers: the front seat.

Technology giants like Intel and Google are turning their attention from the desktop to the dashboard, hoping to bring the power of the PC to the car. They see vast opportunity for profit in working with automakers to create the next generation of irresistible devices.

The combination of dashboard and PC is absolutely perfect; so many uses that will ease and facilitate our lives, our businesses, our need to never be so far from a computer screen that we can’t hear the little noise when we get a new twit. 

There’s no need to explain the myriad of uses for this combo.  Anyone can see how incredibly beneficial it can be, making cars as real an office as any corner of a skyscraper, providing access to critical information exactly when you need it, providing a little something you want to watch rather than exhaust fumes of the car in front of you when stuck in traffic.  No need to justify it further.

But, even the most zealous advocate has to recognize that it’s not without issues.

“This is irresponsible at best and pernicious at worst,” Nicholas A. Ashford, a professor of technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the new efforts to marry cars and computers. “Unfortunately and sadly, it is a continuation of the pursuit of profit over safety — for both drivers and pedestrians.”
I’m not much of a fan of cellphones while driving, believing that chatting up some very important person really isn’t worth the life of another person.  Others have informed me that I’m dead wrong, that they need their cellphones while driving and that banning cellphones is just another deprivation of rights and big government intrusion into their lives.  I disagree. 

There is no “right” to drive badly and put other people at risk of death.  The studies have clearly shown that driving while talking on a cellphone is more dangerous than driving drunk.  If it was simply a matter of people deciding to risk their own lives, I might be less inclined to resist the natural temptation to  acquiesce to this, but they put my life, my kids’ lives, at risk.  Their desire to talk on the phone isn’t worth my life.

If cellphones were bad, this is just mind-bogglingly worse.  But wait, you say.  Certainly no automaker/computer giant would do something that would put us at risk simply to make more money.

The technology and car companies say that safety remains a priority. They note that they are building in or working on technology like voice commands and screens that can simultaneously show a map to the driver and a movie to a front-seat passenger, as in the new Jaguar XJ.

“We are trying to make that driving experience one that is very engaging,” said Jim Buczkowski, the director of global electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford. “We also want to make sure it is safer and safer. It is part of what our DNA will be going forward.”

Well, that sounds encouraging.  And what are they planning to do, since safety remains “a” priority?

A notice that pops up when the Audi system is turned on reads: “Please only use the online services when traffic conditions allow you to do so safely.”
Well, that will stop the idiot dead in his tracks, right?

I trust that many readers will be responsible about their driving, even if access to the internet, and maybe a few Youtube music videos, is just inches away.  They will recognize their responsibility to others on the road, and won’t do something as incredibly stupid as watch the movie intended only for the front seat passenger.  But you bet your bottom dollar that someone (you know, the fellow with the backward baseball cap in the other car) will not be as responsible as you.  He will not heed the on-screen warning.  He will succumb to the allure of the flashing lights on his dashboard.  And he will kill someone.

To argue this point online is nearly crazy; so many are technophiles and embrace every shiny new toy with a love that was once reserved for a sweetheart.  At a time when good people, smart people, find it nearly impossible to pull themselves away from a computer screen lest a twit arrive that demands their immediate response, the idea of having access to your digital lifeline in front of you and ignoring it seems absurd.  It will be used.  It will be loved.  And it will result in harm to someone, whether that be you, your loved one or someone you’ve never met.

Where does the madness end?  We have the technology to make this happen, but do we have the sound judgment to say, “enough”?

A car is about two thousand pounds of hurtling death.  About 50,000 people a year die so that we can enjoy its mobility. The risk of harm by terrorism is a joke compared to the risk of driving down the road.  Yet we happily relinquish our rights to be safe from the threat of underpants bombs and turn a blind eye to the rocket coming toward us with its driver absorbed in the latest meme. 

No matter how much better this combination of technology and mobility will make our lives, we can’t ignore that we must first remain alive.  You can always check twitter when you reach your destination.  Trust me, nothing important will happen without you.

3 thoughts on “The Irresistable Device Meets the Immovable Force

  1. Stephen

    Possibly even more deliberately distracting is the move towards heads up displays in higher end cars. Although this is good in that your head is up at the windscreen rather than down at the dashboard, we’re not fighter pilots and Twitter will still distract us there.

  2. T.Mann

    As a over the road truck driver I can’t say how many accidents I have avoided caused by people on cell phones,I can not understand why they do not use hands free devices. I do agree that this is a bad idea and have no doubt that it will cause suffering. We have computers in most tractor trailers today, however the screen will not display while in motion for safety, why should this be any different for other drivers?

  3. John Burgess

    Minimizing distractions for drivers should be the compelling force, but apparently not. Although a technophile, I refuse to be pushed into action by my devices. A GPS is about the only tech distraction I’ll permit myself.

    I’d vastly prefer it if I could have heads-up displays of useful information. Social media are not useful to driving, though.

    BTW, I believe the research showed that texting, not just cell-phone use, was an equal or greater problem than drunk driving.

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