Which brings me to the million dollar question. Should you be allowed to see your iPhone screen while you drive? The automakers say “no”. Although, I have a healthy skepticism of the motive for their concern for our safety. Considering that they view Apple and Google as potential threats to their cozy environment I find their safety concerns a little too convenient.
I used to work for the VP of Logistics at the Batesville Casket Company (HI) and did analysis for them on their 120 truck fleet. I still remember our discussions back in the 2010 timeframe when our truck drivers were all starting to acquire their first smartphones. We were trying to decide whether or not to ban all smartphone usage from the fleet. It was a short discussion which ended with a complete ban.
But what stuck out to me from that discussion was that the Director of Transportation came to the discussion with studies that showed that these kind of smartphone bans always resulted in HIGHER accident rates. He was genuinely in turmoil whether to ban them or not because his top concern was safety. But the study results defy what you’d normally think.
So how could this be? What the studies showed was that prior to the smart phone bans, drivers used their devices up high where they could still see the road in the background. It’s the same principle behind a “heads-up display”. The idea is that you don’t move your eyes away from the road so that you can still see traffic conditions. Truck drivers using their smartphones in the cab would extend their arms up above the dash line so as to still see oncoming traffic or road conditions.
The study also showed that after smartphone bans, drivers would still use their smartphones but they tried to conceal it. They’d leave their smartphones down on their center consoles or hold it down by their legs so as not to be detected. As a consequence, they were less aware of traffic conditions and accident rates went up.
I agree that smart phone usage has made public roads more dangerous and the last thing I want is people reading their Facebook feeds while they drive by my kids who are playing outside. But auto makers need to face the reality that a lot of people use their iPhones for navigation. They also need to screen their messages and calls so as to ignore all calls that aren’t important.
I think it’s unreasonable to assume that no one needs to mount their iPhone on their dash somewhere. An integrated solution from the auto maker would be so much nicer than the sea of ugly black plastic contraptions that look so out of place in our beautifully designed auto interiors.
And you know what? I think our roads may actually be safer.