Monday, November 22, 2010

Cell Phone Usage In Cars

Americans are about to extend their backlash toward the Obama administration again.

The Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, has recently said that driving while using a cell phone is so dangerous that technology may soon be installed in our cars that will disable said cell phones, while the car is in motion. Not just the driver’s phone but all the phones in the vehicle. Passengers too, will not be able to talk or text while the car is in motion.

I don’t really see this as a major inconvenience and for one would welcome it. I cannot count the times that I have witnessed drivers, with cell phones to their ears, navigating through parking garages or lots or busy street intersections, concentrating on driving and talking but NOT on cyclists or pedestrians. This is usually during either the morning or evening rush hour, not a great time to be driving with just one hand.

Now, here comes the backlash.

Most of the printed comments that I have read are concerned with “what happens during an emergency?”. This is a legitimate question, but what percentage of today’s normal, driving, cell phone use is during an emergency? Had you been in an accident, would you not be stopped? Had you witnessed an accident would you have stopped to render aid? No, most of our normal cell phone use is calling about useless, unnecessary rambling which could have been done prior to starting the automobile, not to mention the texting of teens who may be passengers and sometimes in the same car.

Many equate the driving and talking on our extremely rural western Interstates with the vastly different, urban expressways and intense downtown traffic of our large cities. I may lean toward the relaxing of the regulations in our western rural areas much like we do our speed limits, but care must be used in such matters.

The majority of the comments have been on the regulation of personal freedoms. People feel that they have the ability to drive and talk, or text, read books, apply makeup and a myriad of other things—all without proving that they are able to do so. The police log books (and cemeteries) are filled with examples of the inabilities of drivers to fully control their vehicles while being distracted by something else.

But let us switch for a moment to the subject of the in-car systems of OnStar and the less well known Sync technology.

OnStar, at its very base is just a cell phone built into an automobile. OnStar has been sold as a safety and emergency response system, but it is just a cell phone. Granted, it is connected to all elements of the vehicle, controlling windows, doors and even engines and does NOT have to be activated by the driver. The system may be turned on by the company at any time (and without the driver’s knowledge) for public safety or national security reasons. (Think of it, your supposedly private conversations could be heard and recorded without your cell phone even being on.)

Should your auto be stolen, the company can locate, disable and recover it but that also means that they know (and can record) EVERYWHERE you have been. How many times have you been to the fast food burger hell or the local drug store (or porno palace?), you know, places that you may not like folks to know that you frequent? And who may have access to this information without your consent?

There are even phone apps built to access certain pertinent data about your auto, although many folks will never need or understand it. How easy is it for a nefarious hacker to appropriate this data for his desires? Can he sell it to someone as information gathered by legal means? Are you willing to go along with that intrusion into your life, or do you want “some” government regulation?

I don’t see these systems being disabled by any technology which could be added to either our autos or our cell phones. Thusly, I feel that whatever is unveiled will be able to; a) be location and/or temporal aware so as to override the disabling for emergencies, b) have some sort of override code which could be triggered by the user and verified by 911 agencies, and c) allow those in extremely rural areas to use cell phones depending upon a controlled set of circumstances.

In any event, I find this to be a lesser intrusion to our personal privacy that the TSA searches.

In a quick update, a recent survey found that 63 % of American voters favored a ban on cell phones while driving. I don't think that it is only 36% of our drivers who are the problem.


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elric said...

I think they're going about it all wrong. Children are much more distracting to drivers in my experience. I can't count the number of times I have almost wrecked trying to pick up a pacifier, etc.

The government should prohibit driving with children in the car. It's an inconvenience for parents, but it's a safety issue. Likewise car radios should be banned. And nail clippers, you could hurt someone with those.

I would find this much less invasive than TSA searches. I can probably find other completely outrageous things to compare favorably against.