You Wouldn’t Drink and Drive So Why Is Your Smartphone in Your Hand?


The other day I was driving home and was a bit distracted while driving. No, I wasn’t texting. Instead I was trying to look around to see how many of the drivers around me were either speaking, typing or otherwise distracted by using their smartphones.

I was amazed, and horrified, to see the percentage of individuals who were doing just that.

Then, last night, as I was about to turn off the TV after watching one of the new season premieres I saw an advance blurb for the 11 o’clock news. It said something to the effect of,

“Yet another case of someone being mowed down during the day by a distracted driver; that news is coming up.”

Let’s face it, distracted driving is an issue. Moreover, even those of us who are responsible drivers can, at times, fall prey to it in one form or another. We are so quick to pick up our smartphones and check our e-mail or text messages throughout the day that, if we’re not careful, we will do the same thing while going 65 miles an hour. Sure, the best solution is to leave your smartphone in your pocket or briefcase when you get into the car… but how many of us do that?

And the problem is getting worse.

Fortunately technology is already available that helps to avoid issues of distracted driving without forcing people into an “all or nothing” situation. And fortunately, the issue is now being raised as a real issue and is being addressed by politicians, carmakers and others. One of the leaders in the technology that will help address this issue and remediated it is, of course, Nuance. Nuance’s technology is already incredibly powerful on our PCs, our Macs, our iPhones and iPads, and on some of the android devices that are currently shipping such as the T-Mobile slide which has a dedicated button that accesses Nuance’s voice-to-text technology quickly, easily and accurately. In addition, Nuance’s technology is increasingly built into a variety of automobiles that are on the roads. As the company explains:

Today’s voice technology lets people user their voice to dial numbers or call contacts, listen to incoming messages and respond by dictating a message, input destination information with their voice and hear turn-by-turn directions, find and play music on mp3 players and infotainment systems with simple voice commands.

I had the opportunity to speak with a number of members of the Nuance team who are on the frontline of addressing this issue just prior to the “Distracted Driving Summit” that just took place. I learned a number of things about what is taking place currently. Nuance and Ford Motor Company have a close relationship are building a wide range of technology into a variety of Ford Motor Company cars that will help avoid the issue entirely. In addition, Nuance is working with virtually every major automotive manufacturer to build some degree of this technology into their cars as well.

During my conversation with the Nuance team it was pointed out that the issue of distracted driving is not just about texting while driving. As our automobiles become more and more technologically enabled, and as the use of mobile technology becomes more and more a part of everyday life, this issue enters into so many different areas of what we possibly might be doing while driving and shouldn’t. And let’s be honest, people who would never think to drive while drinking are far less careful when it comes to doing other activities while actually on the road.

In addition, there are four different bills in Congress right now to address the issue of distracted driving and it’s finally getting some of the attention it deserves. This is important! There was some movement with regard to distracted driving about a year ago but then nothing substantial since then… until now. The technology exists but the only way that any real change is going to occur in this arena is for the technology to be built into the cars that are rolling off the assembly line and for legislation to mandate the use of it to some degree or another.

Once issued a statement regarding the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit that’s worth sharing with you, our Gear Diary readers–

2010 Distracted Driving Summit
Nuance Communications Statement

Attributable to Richard Mack, Vice President-Communications, Nuance Communications

Hundreds of people, many leaders of their respective industries, gathered today at the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, DC to nod their heads and agree again that distracted driving is an issue.  It’s always been an issue and will continue to be so, especially as our cars become more sophisticated and our society relies on its mobility.
Nuance Communications attended today’s Summit and we applaud the ambitious work to raise the profile of distracted driving and efforts to enhance education and awareness, especially among younger drivers.  However, we are not doing enough. As an industry, a government and a nation, we need to stop debating the causes of distracted driving and focus instead on immediate solutions that will make our roads safer. Hands-free solutions, voice activation and other technologies have been shown to significantly reduce what are arguably the greatest dangers – manual and visual distractions behind the wheel, whether it’s texting, navigation systems, in-car systems or MP3 players.

We believe we can reduce distractions on today’s roadways through the use of technology, not its banishment, by encouraging manufacturers to build with voice technology, educating consumers on how to make smarter decisions behind the wheel, and, finally, encouraging lawmakers to recognize the benefits that technology offers as they consider any legislation.

Nuance has created a website to make clear their position on distracted driving, what technologies are available and how these might be used to save lives. The site can be found here.

One of the most powerful statements I was taught growing up was, “One who saves a single life it is as if he has saved the entire world.” This is just one of those issues…
This problem was created by technology and it is good to know that technology can play a huge role in solving it. Until then… try to leave your phone in your pocket when you drive.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.