The Downside Of CarPlay And Automotive Infotainment Technology In General – The ‘Book Mystique

I have seriously mixed feelings about Apple’s new CarPlay successor to its iOS-In-a-car technology. On the one hand, I’m happy to see Apple taking the lead in another technology field, showing the others how it’s done, in contrast to, say, Ford’s unfortunate experience in choosing Microsoft to engineer its Sync in/car control and infotainment interface.

Introduced in 2007 and powered by Windows Embedded Automotive OS, Sync has always supported 3rd party apps. However, now in its latest iteration called MyFord Touch, the system’s user-unfriendliness has dragged Ford’s reputation down in consumer ratings. Reportedly, Ford has finally lost patience and will base its next-generation of in-car digital user interface on BlackBerry’s QNX operating system. Ford also announced last week that it will be coming on board with Apple’s CarPlay as well, and Apple is listed the QNX Website as a Partner to ensure high-quality connectivity with their devices, joining other automobile brands that will support CarPlay, including hut not limited to Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Peugeot Citroën, Subaru, Suzuki, and Toyota.

On the other hand, as a lifelong consummate automobile aficionado, I’m mostly dismayed by the incursion of digital technology into the driving experience for the disturbingly large cohort who refuse to use it responsibly, which essentially means using it at all behind the wheel of a motor vehicle in motion. Cellphone use on the roads by drivers, especially the bizarre but apparently common practice of texting while driving but pertaining to others as well.

The operative rationalization is that CarPlay will make things safer by supporting hands-free cellphone use and control by voice command via Apple’s Siri Eyes Free technology; as Apple puts it, letting drivers use their iPhone in the car with minimized distraction, and focus on driving, while also tapping into everything they want to do with their iPhone. However, science doesn’t support the assertion that hands–free cellphone operation is statistically safer then handheld — research having determined that increased risk of involvement in a crash while conducting a cellphone conversation is pretty much the same respectively.

The thing is: Apple burbles that “Once iPhone is connected to a vehicle with CarPlay integration, Siri helps you easily access your contacts, make calls, return missed calls or listen to voicemails. When incoming messages or notifications arrive, Siri provides an eyes-free experience by responding to requests through voice commands, by reading drivers’ messages and letting them dictate responses or simply make a call.” That’s a description of a formula for complex distraction, whether conducted hands-on or by voice. I have enough trouble dictating coherently in a quiet room. The idea of digesting email being read to me and composing replies by voice while in control of a moving car makes my head spin, and I’ve been a frequent user of dictation software for more than 15 years. The eyes of someone doing what Apple describes above may be aimed at the road ahead, but their mind is going to be elsewhere and fully occupied with other matters. Safe driving demands cognitive concentration on road and traffic conditions and vehicle control dynamics. Cognitive distraction is what really occurs when drivers have their eyes on the road but their minds focused elsewhere.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, cited by New York Times syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd, observes: “Putting entertainment centres in automobiles does not contribute to safe driving. When you’re trying to update your Facebook or put out a tweet, its a distraction.” Why that common sense factual observation is not abundantly evident to everyone is a conundrum, but presumably for many there has to be psychological denial involved. Has obsessive infatuation with cell communications produced a horde of users so narcissistic that they can’t imagine how the world can get along with them incognito for a few hours, “or even minutes? Seems so. AT&T quotes Ray LaHood observing: “Distracted. driving is an epidemic, particularly among teens who are confident in their ability to text or talk while driving.”

A State Farm survey found that 19 percent of respondents admitted to using the Internet while driving, with the top five Web-based activities they engage in being:

Finding/reading driving directions,
Reading email,
Looking up/referencing specific information of immediate interest,
Looking at/reading social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc.),
Composing/sending email.

An Ontario Medical Association report, based on a meta-analysis of studies from around the world points to the dangers of cellphone use (not only texting) in automobiles, which negatively affects a driver’s cognitive function, visual concentration, speed of processing information and reaction time, putting cellphone-using drivers at significantly greater risk of collision, regardless of whether the device is hands-free or handheld, and that cellphone conversation while driving poses nearly the same risk as driving at the legal limit for alcohol. The OMA study also found talking on a cellphone leads to a substantial reduction in the driver’s field of view, changes of driving speed, decreased the distance maintained between vehicles, resulted in more frequent panic braking, less mirror-checking and slowed response time to traffic light changes.

A study cited by The Coalition for Cell Phone Free Driving says statistical likelihood of being involved in a motor vehicle accident rises by a factor of 4 during cellphone use — greater than with low-level alcohol impairment, and slows a driver’s reaction time by 18 percent”.

Driving While Texting (“DWT”) is in a whole different dimension of risk. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) study determined that texting while driving makes you 23.2 times likelier to be involved in a crash or near crash when you’re engaged in text messaging behind the wheel.

According to Royal Canadian Mounted Police statistics, driving while distracted has become the number-one cause of motor vehicle crashes in the province of Nova Scotia, Canada, where I live. A third (33 percent) of fatal crashes in N.S. in the past five years have been attributable to distracted driving, exceeding by a sizeable margin the 26% attributable to the influence of alcohol. The RCMP warn that just as it is not okay to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol (or other chemical agents causing narcosis, neither is it okay to drive while distracted by texting (or other sorts of attention diversion).

The police figures the police metrics say that sending or receiving a text message while driving will distract your eyes and attention from an average of 4.6 seconds between glances at the road to monitor where you’re going, which is the amount of time it takes to travel the length of a football field you and have a modest 55 mi./h. the NYT’s Maureen Dowd reports that according to Ford engineers she interviewed, taking one’s eyes off the road for more than 1.5 seconds puts you in the danger zone. It is illegal to either converse or text on a handheld cell phone in Nova Scotia, and in light of the metrics, in my estimation texting while driving should be a criminal offense (a felony in US legal terminology), involving jail time rather than a summary offense (misdemeanor) with a wrist slap fine of Can $176.45 for a first conviction. Being the main aggravating factor in a third of Highway fatalities is not a trivial matter.

Driving while intoxicated is now widely considered socially inappropriate and intolerable, but a growing body of research indicates that DWT could become as bad or even worse a public hazard than DWI, and should be just as socially unacceptable as driving drunk. According to a U.K. Transport Research Laboratory study commissioned by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, motorists sending text messages while driving are “significantly more impaired” than ones who drive drunk, The study showed texters’ reaction times deteriorated by 35 percent, with a whopping 91 percent decrease in steering ability, while similar studies of drunk driving indicate reaction times diminishment of a relatively modest 12 percent. By that measure, DWT is three times more dangerous than DWI, and should logically be treated as severely if not more so, both under the law and in terms of social censure.

In an editorial that appeared in the September 2013 issue of Car and Driver magazine, Editor-in-Chief Eddie Alterman commented on the danger of drivers using smartphones: “Here’s my plan: zero tolerance. Disable smartphones in vehicles. … The only way a car should integrate the phone today is by putting a huge warning light on top alerting other motorists to its use.” That attracted a lot of stick from outraged libertarian readers, but I think Mr. Alterman’s proposal is sensible, albeit difficult to achieve in terms of realpolitik.

CNN Money’s James O’Toole cites David Teater, senior director at the nonprofit National Safety Council and a former market research consultant to auto manufacturers who lost his 12-year-old son in a distracted driving accident commenting: “We’re very, very concerned about it. The auto industry and the consumer electronics industry are really in an arms race to see how we can enable drivers to do stuff other than driving.” O’Toole notes that Apple’s announcement represents a step towards standardizing the technology across the industry and increasing the range of applications available to drivers, and that before Apple’s Geneva CarPlay rollout last week, Google had announced back in January that it will partner with Audi, GM, Honda, and Hyundai to bring its Android operating system to cars starting this year. Like Apple, Google makes the unsupported assertion that its technology in the car makes things safer and more intuitive.

O’Toole further cites a study released last year by the Texas A&M University Transportation Institute finding that reaction times of drivers doubled whether they were texting manually or dictating their messages through voice-to-text applications like Apple’s Siri or Vlingo for Android, and that researchers at the University of Utah reported last year that talking on a hand-held phone is only slightly more distracting than talking on a hands-free phone, with both deemed a “moderate” risk, while voice-to-text applications like Siri were even more distracting, and deemed an “extensive” risk. Research by the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that not only are holding, dialing, or text messaging with cellphones is dangerous while driving, and that just the mental interaction of talking on a cellphone — even a hands-free unit — degrades driving performance.

O’Toole quotes Bruce Hamilton, manager of research and communications at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety” saying that “the idea that people want to be on their phones, and therefore let’s give them a way to do that — that’s not putting safety first, that’s putting convenience and the desire to be in touch first.”

The article says cellphone use is a leading contributor to “distracted driving” accidents, which killed 3,328 Americans and injured another 421,000 in 2012, according to government statistics cited by O’Toole, who notes that while a handful of states ban the use of cellphones while driving, there are no restrictions on hands-free use.

As for the counter-argument that talking on a hands-free phone should be no different than talking to a passenger inside the automobile, that is not the case, a reason being that the person at the other end of a telephone conversation has no sense of what is happening in the car and is unable to react or just shut up immediately should dangerous set of circumstances develop.

Carnegie Mellon researchers monitored volunteers’ MRI brain imaging while they operated a driving simulator negotiating a “twisty road,” first with undistracted concentration, and then while deciding whether a sentence dictated to them was true or false. According to findings published in the scientific journal Brain Research, drivers were more inclined to veer out of their lane or even crash into guardrails while mentally multitasking.

The MRI scan analysis showed a 37 percent reduction in parietal lobe activity (the part of the brain that handles spatial perception) when processing the true/false question, and activity also decreased in the occipital lobe that processes visual information.As for the counter-argument that talking on a hands-free phone should be no different than talking to a passenger inside the automobile, that is not the case, a reason being that the person at the other end of a telephone conversation has no sense of what is happening in the car and is unable to react or just shut up immediately should dangerous set of circumstances develop.

Carnegie Mellon researchers monitored volunteers’ MRI brain imaging while they operated a driving simulator negotiating a “twisty road,” first with undistracted concentration, and then while deciding whether a sentence dictated to them was true or false. According to findings published in the scientific journal Brain Research, drivers were more inclined to veer out of their lane or even crash into guardrails while mentally multitasking.

The MRI scan analysis showed a 37 percent reduction in parietal lobe activity (the part of the brain that handles spatial perception) when processing the true/false question, and activity also decreased in the occipital lobe that processes visual information.

Indeed, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) says it’s concerned that banning handheld phones while allowing hands-free use doesn’t provide any safety benefit, and may actually encourage people to chatter longer. Banning use of handheld phones while allowing hands-free units merely places the phone out of sight while people still continue to talk, distracted from due diligence while driving while the increased crash risk remains 4x. Hands-free phones don’t reduce your need to think about the conversation you’re engaged in, which as we noted above is cognitive distraction. Manipulating a hands-free phone; donning a headset, or changing phone settings while driving take your attention away from the task, and increase your chances of being in a crash.

Along with the OMA, Doctors Nova Scotia is also encouraging governments to to go a step further and ban hands-free phones as well. If you want to use a any sort cellphone in your car, the acceptable alternative is to pull over to take or place a call. Handheld cellphone bans are better than no bans at all. Now governments need to act responsibly and take the next step. As Ray LaHood and Car and Driver’s Eddie Alterman advocate, to correct this dangerous behavior, you have to have tough laws with good enforcement.

However, I can envision safer use of in-car infotainment technology will almost inevitably be used as a lever to promote driverless automobile autonomy technology, which doesn’t enchant me in the least, although it would arguably make the roads safer to share with vehicle users so besotted with communications chatter — voice or text — that they can’t remain serenely incognito for more than a few minutes at a time. The phones may be smart, but anyone who puts their own life and that of others in jeopardy by texting while driving is a dumb user (or worse).

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