Tech and driving: what’s safe?
TECHLIFE’S EDITOR SAYS TECH CERTAINLY HAS A PLACE IN YOUR CAR, BUT THAT USING IT STILL REQUIRES CAUTION.
ALONGSIDE OUR STREAMING cover story this month, we’ve also tested a variety of products designed to be used in the car. Now, while tech in the car can certainly be both helpful and fun, it’d be remiss of us to not address the gorilla in the room — and that’s the safety element. While up-to-date Australian statistics about mobile phones as a cause of accidents is hard to come by, all of Australia’s state and territory governments agree that distraction is one of the biggest contributors to car crashes; according to the Queensland Government’s 2012 ’State of the Road’ report, about one-quarter of accidents are due to driver distraction.
The laws around phone use vary subtly by state, but they’re fairly uniform in terms of intent; in order to do anything on a smartphone, it needs to be placed in a cradle — holding your phone is completely out — and you can only use certain types of apps, such as for GPS navigation or music playback. (In NSW, as of December 1st, 2016 it’s also now completely illegal for learner and P-plate drivers to use a smartphone at all — even if that’s exclusively for something like GPS purposes.)
Internationally, the US Government has actually moved to mandate that smartphones have an in-car equivalent to ‘airplane mode’, which will specifically restrict what can be done with the device while you’re driving. Thankfully, phone makers do seem to be moving in this direction already actually — Google’s recently made its answer to the problem more widely available: Android Auto, the company’s specific hands-free app, will now run on any Android phone, not just those connected to a compatible in-car Android Auto system. (We’ve actually reviewed it on page 32 of this issue.)
In practical terms, the best advice is the same as it’s always been, then — ideally, don’t use your device at all when you’re behind the wheel, and if you must use it, do so sparingly and with specific hands-free, car-optimised apps. Perhaps most important is to resist the temptation to read and reply to text messages; even if you’re dictating replies via a digital assistant (like Siri or Google Assistant), flicking your eyes over to reading those messages is still stealing enough of your focus to be dangerous. And even if your eyes are taken away from the road for just a few seconds, that’s all it takes for the worst to happen.
So be sensible: use caution when using your smartphone when you’re in the driver’s seat.