What Can Car Companies Do to Fix the Distracted-Driving Epidemic?

No less an authority than MIT may have a solution

By Shari Gab

What Can Car Companies Do to Fix the Distracted-Driving Epidemic?
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07 July 2017

For every problem, a solution.

That seems to be the approach to new car tech these days, with a gamut of new gadgetry (lane assist, stability control, voice controls) cropping up to correct a self-inflicted scourge: drivers being distracted by their own damn devices. Perhaps not-so-suprisingly, that safety tech is, for the most part, failing: cell phones alone are reported to lead to 1.6 million crashes in a year.

A better solution? Building cars that work with the driver to prevent accidents, rather than for them. Think Apple’s new “Do Not Disturb” mode. This according to no less an authority than MIT.

In a new research project, the university's Tech Age Lab and Touchstone Evaluations department — which is funded by the likes of Denso, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Google and Panasonic — took a deep dive into monitoring how we behave in cars and how that behavior can be modified via technology. As pointed out by Wired, previous research had been more secular, attempting to figure out exactly what caused crashes without comprehensive information on driver behavior. The MIT researchers took this information and looked at the moments before incidents occurred, up to 20 seconds before collision

Using an algorithm called AttenD that dates back to 2009, the research found that “it is essentially the timing of the [distracted-driving] activity that may determine how badly it ends. Timing in this context means more than it is often taken to mean.” Translation: people who are apt to send a quick text were already in a situation where their awareness was compromised. In these critical momets, one glance in the wrong direction can trigger a chain reaction of compromised attention that eventually begets an accident.

What can the auto industry do with this data? Declutter instrument panels, for one. More user-friendly infotainment systems mean less eyes on the screen, and more eyes on the road. “How can I keep the driver’s awareness of the situation high while they search for something to listen to on their new infotainment system?” Touchstone's Linda Angell told Wired. “How can I structure this task in a way that their eyes are on the road, and give them frequent enough breaks, and cue them to look at the road once in a while?”

In the meantime, put your damn phone down, and rest assured that someone out there is trying to figure out how to cover your ass nonetheless.

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