The tough, dedicated professionals who staff the 9-1-1 contact centers, and those equally stressed pros who handle claims calls for health insurers who have been worried that the distracted driving laws being rolled out in the U.S. and Canada will result in fewer calls--and possible layoffs--can breathe easy.
That's because the automotive and tech geniuses have managed to come up with exciting new ways for motorists to maim and kill themselves and others that should compensate for the fewer injuries and deaths resulting from the new regulations.
The New York Times reports the new gizmos, which are being rolled out at the Consumer Electronics Show this week include "10-inch screens above the gearshift showing high-definition videos, 3-D maps and Web pages."
Yes, the devices do "prevent drivers from watching video and using some other functions while the car is moving, but they can still pull up content as varied as restaurant reviews and the covers of music albums with the tap of a finger."
Sure sounds like safety first to me. 'Hmmm...now where's that Roadkill Bistro... look, it's a truck driving, like she's in England or Japan...nice grille...'
And as far as that ability to 'prevent' goes...just how long (wink-wink) will it really take for someone to come out and spam-market disabling gear so you can watch 'Final D' while meeting your own or that of your loved ones.
The Times article, appropriately titled 'Driven to Distraction Despite Risks, Internet Creeps Onto Car Dashboards' describes one system on the way this fall from Audi that lets drivers pull up information as they drive.
"Heading to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game? Pop down the touch pad, finger-scribble the word "Knicks" and get a Wikipedia entry on the arena, photos and reviews of nearby restaurants, and animations of the ways to get there." A notice that pops up when the Audi system is turned on reads: "Please only use the online services when traffic conditions allow you to do so safely."
"The technology and car companies say that safety remains a priority. They note that they are building in or working on technology like voice commands and screens that can simultaneously show a map to the driver and a movie to a front-seat passenger, as in the new Jaguar XJ."
"We are trying to make that driving experience one that is very engaging," said Jim Buczkowski, the director of global electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford told the Times "We also want to make sure it is safer and safer. It is part of what our DNA will be going forward."
Engaging???? What's more engaging than doing what you're supposed to be doing behind the wheel: scans to the front, sides, rear, quick glances at the speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, temperature, ears alert to noises that shouldn't be there, and nose to smells that don't belong either.
The Times article says "Safety advocates say the companies behind these technologies are tone-deaf to mounting research showing the risks of distracted driving -- and to a growing national debate about the use of mobile devices in cars and how to avoid the thousands of wrecks and injuries this distraction causes each year.
"This is irresponsible at best and pernicious at worst," Nicholas A. Ashford, a professor of technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the new efforts to marry cars and computers. "Unfortunately and sadly, it is a continuation of the pursuit of profit over safety -- for both drivers and pedestrians."
I'd like to take the whizz-bangs who dreamed up and greenlighted this stuff to experience Christmas Carol-style some of the 'MVAs' I've been at, as a newspaper reporter and have witnessed as a private citizen...Or better yet, I'd like to have them ride along with my son, who is a paramedic...
I had an old friend named Steve that I knew in my college days and with whom I once rented a black Camaro that we decided to drive up to Whistler from Vancouver on the now-slightly-improved-but-still notorious 'Sea to Sky Highway'.
I let him drive--I did the navigating--for his skills were far better than mine would ever be, and I've driven from mountaintops on logging roads to potholed Manhattan streets.
Steve told me, as he nimbly took one sharp turn at slightly over the speed limit, "driving is like a video game. Make one mistake and you die."