The era of the self-driving car is practically upon us, and not a moment too soon. Twenty years ago, the biggest threat on the road used to be drunks and sleepy drivers. Nowadays, technology has bequeathed us with a whole new slew of road safety worries, spurred on by that most evil yet necessary of all human abilities: multi-tasking.
Unfortunately for all the good that technology has brought, an invention like the smart phone has also created a new reality, where even the strait-laced teetotaler with an “early to bed, early to rise” philosophy is capable of doing as much destruction on the road as the alkie on a three-day bender. It is called distracted driving, and it is s one of the unfortunate realities of living in a fast paced world where people are trying to cram as much work into their commute times as possible.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and a whole slew of other agencies who compile scary information and present it to us to remind us we are not immortal, have reported that distracted driving is killing people off left and right. Some studies say that texting and driving is about as dangerous as driving drunk, and with a statistic like that it is not hard to venture a guess at how many shots of whiskey you would have to take to match the distraction level of checking your work email while cruising along the fast lane.
But distracted driving is not just about taking your eyes off the road. Apparently, it comes in all shapes and sizes. Three, to be exact: visual, manual, and cognitive. Visual refers to partaking of any activity that makes you take your eyes off the road, like reading an email from your boss. Manual indicates doing something that requires you to take your hands off the steering wheel, like answering that email. Cognitive means doing something that takes your mind off the task of driving – which could be anything, really, including a quick call from the kids or calling shots on a conference call. According to the CDC, any one of these types of behaviors is enough to make you an official rolling hazard. But it is when you combine all three that you really become a traveling time bomb.
Distracted driving is becoming such a big problem that the government now has its own website called www.distraction.gov. Even the aforementioned CDC is on the case, serving up hair-raising statistics that would likely scare any driver straight if they have not seen them. Coming from the people who track famine and pestilence and all sorts of other horrible things, when the CDC says this country has a problem with distracted driving, everyone should probably take them at their word.
Here are just a few statistics on distracted driving, guaranteed to turn hair white prematurely.
- Over 15 people are killed on the road every single day due to distracted driving.
- About 1200 people are injured every day in distracted driving related accidents.
- More than half of all drivers between the ages of 18 and 29 say they either text or e-mail regularly while behind the wheel of a car.
- Texting and driving (this can also include reading work related email and driving) makes you 23 times more likely to wreck your car.
With those statistics to chew on, how excited could anyone be about what the future holds for mobility? One does not have to be a futurist to predict that as time goes by, as gadgets get faster, and as mobility becomes even more (for lack of a better word) mobile, people are going to have the ability to do things while zipping down the road at 75 m.p.h. that just are not possible with conventional technology.
In that future date, an exec dropping the kids off at school on the way to the office will be able to patch in to a video conference from her smart phone, while going over yesterday’s sales numbers on her Wi-Fi connected laptop. Forget having to rely on 4G or even 5G, eventually internet-connected cars will be the norm and consumers will wonder how they ever got by without it. In fact, it is already possible through the use of mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices. There are even some cars and trucks on the market that offer a variety of connectivity options and applications.
All of this is great for the harried rat-race runner who has to do 1001 things before he can go home and spend time with the kids (or the dog, for that matter). The question now becomes, will technology lead us into harm’s way with the ability to conduct all manner of business – from checking email to updating spreadsheets to reviewing year-end stats – while negotiating bumper to bumper traffic? Or will the advent of the self-driving car come swooping in like a hero to save us from ourselves? Do not expect the latter anytime soon.
So the next time you spy that guy trimming his nose hairs while waiting for the light to turn green, or the gal flat-ironing her hair in bumper to bumper traffic, be thankful – it could be worse. They could also be working on a presentation for their boss.