It was with great surprise and concern that I read of a new partnership between AT&T and auto manufacturers Audi and Telsa. Audi and Telsa’s 2015 automobiles will be connected to AT&T’s wireless network so that drivers can now have news headlines read to them and can tweet and post to Facebook using their voices instead of their fingers.
AT&T’s head of emerging devices, Glenn Lurie, told CNNMoney these advancements reflect a major step forward in converting cars from mindless machines to intelligent gadgets. From my perspective, unless AT&T requires that auto manufacturers provide lock out mechanisms for drivers while the vehicle is moving, this partnership will create an additional layer of distraction and result in more crashes.
Sound scientific research has demonstrated that when our minds are engaged in tasks other than driving, the likelihood of a crash increases dramatically — even with voice to text devices and hands-free cell phone conversations. The science of cognitive distraction has proven that our brains are limited in their ability to multitask when driving, and that hands-free does not mean risk free.
Mr. Lurie’s comments and auto manufacturers’ frenzy to incorporate more complex infotainment systems ignore that research and common sense. This new technology may be inviting to some, but just think about whether you want to be driving down the interstate next to someone who is verbally texting or tweeting their boss, spouse or girlfriend. Or whether you want to give the keys to a dangerous technologically equipped car to your teenage child. Presumably, even the decision makers at auto manufacturers have teenage children who are driving.
I am hoping that, consistent with its laudable efforts to reduce distracted driving, AT&T will require that auto manufacturers’ designs include features that will prevent drivers from using these systems when the car is moving. We have come a long way in raising awareness about all forms of distracted driving, and the last thing we need is to build into automobiles newer and more elaborate distractions.
We don’t need our cars to be , as Mr. Lurie suggests, more “intelligent gadgets.” What we do need is more intelligent and responsible cell phone providers and automobile manufacturers in order to stem the epidemic of distracted driving.
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