Will Having Car-makers Block Access to Handheld Devices Work?In previous articles, I have written of my support for a total ban on the use of any handheld device when one is operating a motor vehicle. In these articles I pointed out my personal view that smartphones, especially when it comes to texting, are a distraction to the driver. In addition, I also believe that to safely operate any vehicle without endangering those around him, the driver should have two hands on the wheel at all times. These are general safety concerns, since texting, talking on your cellphone, or eating can result in inattention leading to the death of others if you are responsible for running a stop sign or veering off the road.

Recently, however, in an attempt to stop the madness that results in some 3,000 deaths annually, “Big Brother” in the form of the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) suggested the implementation of a statute that would require auto makers to install ‘jamming’ devices in all newly manufactured vehicles. To implement this law, it explored several options, some of which included the following proposals:

  • Disabling any automobile features that allow the driver to use or access handheld electronic devices. It did, however, allow that passengers should be allowed reasonable access to the device in case of an emergency.
  • Other members volunteered the need to limit the jamming device to only affect those times that the vehicle is in motion while allowing access whenever the vehicle is in the parked position.
  • With this disabling feature, it wants to prevent the ability to surf the Internet, view social media sites, perform manual texting, and/or the manual dialing of a 10-digit phone number. In some form, it also wanted to disable the use of manual entry into a GPS unit until the vehicle is in a parked mode.

Though the technology is available to implement these proposals, one must stop and think just how far this could be taken. Could lawmakers use this as a jumping off point to limit drivers from performing other tasks, like eating a burger with one hand and drinking a Coke in the other, since it could obviously be another cause of inattention? The problem with inattentive driving was seen after a surge in Forsyth, Missouri’s traffic accident statistics. As a result, the city’s Aldermen imposed an ordinance directed at distracted drivers. This ordinance allows the police department to cite and fine distracted drivers who are found responsible for an accident or injury to a person or their property. However, due to the innovative approach to the problem, it is currently unclear how this ordinance will be intepreted by the courts.

The unfortunate thing is that all of these proposals will interfere with people’s current need for constant communication and as a result will probably not keep them from using their cellphones when driving. It’s too bad that safety concerns can’t take precedence since not many years ago we all relied on answering machines in order to return missed calls. However, the ability to talk and text has polarized the human race to such an extent that people have become one with their machines and allowed them to consume their existence 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

So what is the right answer to the problem? I believe the answer is rather simple. In fact, a group of kids has already set parameters in place that could provide a satisfactory solution. The ideas included the following suggestions:

  • Enforce a law that prohibits eating and/or drinking while the vehicle is moving.
  • Fine anyone who is using a handheld device of any type or require that they perform community service to an organization that assists victims of traffic accidents.
  • Design a device that can be retrofitted to fit any existing automobile and will prevent someone from using electronic devices when the car is in motion.
  • Obtain government funding so that the cost to the consumer is limited — similar as to what was done when we changed over to digital TV.

So what is this magic cure? It is called SMARTwheel and is basically a simple design. The SMART stands for:

  • Safe
  • Motorist
  • Alert for
  • Restrictive
  • Texting

The SMARTwheel is basically a device that fits to a steering wheel of a car and requires that the driver keep both hands on the steering wheel while the car is in motion. If the driver removes their hand[s] for ten seconds or longer, an alert is sounded. The alert is intended to annoy the driver and will require that he return his hands to the steering wheel before it turns itself off. SMARTwheel sounds simple and like an effective way to remind us that we need to keep our hands on the steering wheel, thus controlling our vehicles in the safest manner. The SMARTwheel website has additional information about this device and how it works.

While no device may be 100% effective, the SMARTwheel seems like a product that could help stop distracted drivers. What do you think?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Zane and Seth

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