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Road Sage

Why turning your car into a phone on wheels is a bad idea Add to ...

It’s funny how things repeat themselves. How old solutions get discovered over and over again. I mean, remember back in the 1980s, when people started becoming concerned about drunk driving? People were dying. Alcohol was the cause. Everyone agreed something had to be done.

So car manufacturers began installing air-chilled drink holders in all their vehicles and put wet bars in vans and station wagons. They put automatic olive dispensers in sun visors to make it easier to mix a martini while driving. Beer companies pitched in by positioning refrigerated mini-kegs in the trunks of most domestic models and connected these to high-performance draft systems that allowed a driver to pour himself an ice cold pilsner while keeping one hand on the wheel. They built freezers under the front seats so a motorist could just reach down and pull out a frosty mug. Finally, they placed billboards (most of which featured barely-clad women) selling alcohol along all major highways.

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Then the car manufacturers, alcohol companies and advertisers told everyone it was really bad to drink and drive.

Confused? That’s the logical response and by now you’ve guessed that this never happened. Even back in the go-go eighties (when people smoked in restaurants and thought cocaine wasn’t addictive), folks knew that you couldn’t discourage a dangerous behaviour by making it more accessible and alluring.

And yet, when it comes to distracted driving, that appears to be the strategy.

Car companies scream about its dangers and then place more distractions at our fingertips. Case in point: last week, this newspaper reported that Rogers Communications would be partnering with Sprint to bring the “connected car” to Canadian highways in 2014.

This technology turns automobiles into “hotspots” where people will eventually be able to indulge their digital desires – customized content, e-mail, shopping; why you can even make a bank payment. It was introduced last year in the United States. The Globe and Mail quoted one Rogers executive as saying that one day you could come to “think of your car as just a big phone on four wheels.”

Yep, just a big phone on four wheels that can run over people and crush them.

What is going on? Have we all lost our wits?

Everyone agrees that distracted driving is a plague. The police do, transport experts do, drivers do, and car manufacturers do. According to Transport Canada’s National Collision Database, distracted driving deaths have increased 17 per cent in the past five years. Statistics from the U.S. Government website distracted.com show that, in the United States, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2011. Along with them, another 387,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver and, “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.”

And the solution to all this death and dismemberment is connected cars that will make it easier to do and harder to resist?

If we’re going down this path, why not double-down on the ethic?

Here are a few other connected car advances we can explore:

  • Install Grand Theft Auto V console in steering wheel.
     
  • Make pay-per-view porn available on-demand through GPS system. Slogan: “We’ll get you there!”
     
  • Make it easier for people to buy “Fitness watches” and Pro Skin Care Face and Body Systems online while driving.
     
  • Explore possibilities of selfie-related applications – for instance, reverse dashboard cameras.

Of course, used properly, wireless connected car technology could actually save lives. It could be used for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovation Technology Administration (RITA) is conducting the Connected Vehicle Safety Pilot Program. It has put 3,000 connected V2V cars on the road and is collecting data.

According to RITA, “By exchanging anonymous, vehicle-based data regarding position, speed, and location (at a minimum), V2V communications enables a vehicle to: sense threats and hazards with a 360-degree awareness of the position of other vehicles and the threat or hazard they present; calculate risk; issue driver advisories or warnings; or take pre-emptive actions to avoid and mitigate crashes.”

That’s a car we’d all like to drive. So let’s hope companies like Rogers, Sprint and the rest of the corporate entities do not, in their quest to use the connected car to make a profit, overlook its potential to save lives.

I’m no technology buff – my dream car is a 1971 Chevelle with no radio – but I realize that connected cars are inevitable. It’s up to us, the people who drive them, to demand that those who make them do so responsibly. We need to see what’s at stake and make a stand against frivolous wireless diversions and focus on our driving.

This is not the time to be distracted.

Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy

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