Tech and driv­ing: what’s safe?


TechLife Australia - - EDITORIAL - [ DAN GAR­DINER ]

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.

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