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Nov 10, 2017

But it Was Hands-Free Officer…

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An old colleague of mine, let’s call him “Tom,” had a theory regarding productivity and the car. He often drove from New York to Washington, D.C., following the New Jersey Turnpike and i95, at strange hours in the early morning; and his theory was that he could multitask. He would set cruise control, turn on the interior light, pull out some ‘light’ work reading materials and get to it. His logic (if that is the correct word for it) was that the road was pretty straight and very quiet at that time of night, and that other drivers would navigate around him if they needed to go faster. Happily, and somewhat surprisingly, the story doesn’t end with a fireball on i95.

I was reminded of Tom yesterday as I was driving back from work in relatively heavy traffic. One car in particular was driving rather erratically and the cause, it turned out, was that the driver was watching a soccer game on his smartphone. The phone was perched on the dashboard above the steering wheel and he was clearly paying more attention to it than to his surroundings. Goals, near misses, and various other infractions, were cause for celebration or dismay, as all the nearby drivers could tell.

Now technically, he was not infringing on New York’s hands-free rules (assuming he started the video stream before setting off), but I’m sure there are a whole bunch of distracted driving rules that he was completely trampling over. Technicalities aside, the situation does highlight just how much watching video on smartphones has become engrained in our lives. The very fact that we can now watch a live soccer game on our phones shows how far mobile has come, both in terms of technology (fewer dead spots, faster networks) and content licensing. We truly have entered the realm where we can watch almost anything we want, anytime we want, and anywhere that suits us.

Having said that, it would be useful if other technology could catch up. If people are going to watch video while driving, the need for a self-driving car becomes more important. After all, as one colleague (not Tom) pointed out, then perhaps we could drink beer while watching the game. Or not… as I think we’re still quite some way from a fully aware self-driving car. Take for example, the driverless shuttle that was set free in downtown Las Vegas a few days ago: it had its first fender bender within the first hour, and while it wasn’t the car’s fault (a truck backed into it), a human driver would have moved out of the way of a 20-ton truck slowly backing towards it. Whoops.

In the meantime, if you are driving on the New Jersey Turnpike late at night, keep your eyes open for cars with interior lights on. It’s probably not wise to get too close to Tom if he’s too engrossed in his work.



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