Monday, January 18, 2010

Technologies’ assault on road safety

Unless you’ve not spent one day in our entrepreneurial society, you probably saw this coming. Just as talk about curbing driver distractions has seemingly reached its peak, with officials from state government and the federal government joining in the fray, automakers and high-tech companies are unveiling their newest toys for drivers to play with while at the wheel.

Driver distractions have been an issue since the first time wheels hit the road. Through the decades the distractions have changed, but the consequences can be just as deadly. We’ve seen government step in occasionally to curb certain distractions such as cell phone use. We’ve also seen government look into limiting other distractions. These efforts range from everything under the sun, including prohibiting pets from sitting on their owners’ laps while heading down the road.

Early this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, technology giants such as Intel and Google showed off the latest creations they have been working on with automakers. The results, while amazing, are concerning. They have done such things as build video monitors above the gearshift to display the highest-quality videos, 3D maps and access to the Internet.

Fortunately, drivers are prevented from watching video and using some functions while the vehicle is moving, but they are still allowed to “surf” the Web for anything else.

While the techies and automakers say that safety is a priority, they are far from convincing. Take for example the folks at Ford. They are preparing to roll out an option to read aloud tweets from Twitter.

But the topper for me comes from Jaguar. Their new XJ model has a split screen with the capability of displaying a map to the driver and a movie to the person riding shotgun. Pass the popcorn!

We understand that everybody is out to make a buck, but you would hope common sense would somehow prevail. In this economy, technology companies and automakers appear to have put any safety concerns well behind the rearview mirror in hopes of selling their products.

Tech companies and automakers cannot get them out on the road fast enough. It is anticipated that the first wave of these rolling information/entertainment systems will be available to consumers this year.

This is just the beginning of the latest round of assaults on roadway safety by technology. It should be a concern to everyone, including truckers. Professional drivers have no choice but to work alongside other distracted drivers. The public should let automakers and lawmakers know they want nothing to do with this when they’re out on the road. Just because tech and auto companies can make something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.