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Driven to Distraction: Can Cars and Internet of Things Share Road?

by Kenneth Murphy

May 1, 2013

by Ken Murphy

@KMurphyWisPubs

There is a great blog up on the SAP Community Network about mobility’s place behind the wheel, followed by a poll  (log-in required to vote) asking readers to weigh in on the subject. A quick recap of the excellent post by SCN moderator Jennifer Lankheim: A California driver was cited for using Google Maps on his iPhone, but contested the citation because the “hands free” law under which he was cited – while prohibiting listening, talking, or texting on a mobile device while driving – did not specifically address looking at one. The driver argued it wasn’t illegal to look at a paper map, so why a map on a mobile device? The driver lost, and then lost an appeal when a three-judge panel ruled that the law, though “illogical and arbitrary”, was passed with the purpose of eliminating distractions inherent with using a phone while driving.

As someone whose home state of Massachusetts recently enacted a law against accessing the Internet or sending or reading texts, emails, and instant messages while driving, I found this story particularly fascinating, and my guess is that we will see an entire convoy of similar cases moving through courts across the country in the coming years.

It’s not difficult to find a trove of news stories that support this conclusion. A recent SCN blog by Mahira Kalim about the Internet of Things (aka M2M) points out that by 2020 it’s expected that there may be up to 50 billion Internet-connected devices in the world – roughly 6.5 for every person alive. That Toyota Camry that cut you off on your way to work this morning? Connected. And don’t think we’ll have to wait until 2020, either. A USA Today article featuring Ford’s use of Big Data says that Ford’s plug-in hybrid car generates 25 gigabytes of data per hour that is processed and then displayed to drivers via a mobile app, giving them real-time information on things like battery life or where to find the nearest gas station. (SAP Experts Managing Editor Scott Priest links to a few other recent M2M articles in Tuesday’s Today in SAP blog, including an SAP study on the topic.)

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out. Accessing Google Maps while driving can’t be any safer than interacting with a device every time an app alerts you about your car’s performance. Will Ford’s mobile app be this decade’s version of tinted windows? Will hands-free laws have to be constantly updated as newer technologies – think Google Glass – take root? In Massachusetts, at least, many argue that the current law lacks teeth because it’s essentially unenforceable – while texting and driving is against the law, dialing a phone number (or glancing at a map – looking at you, California) is not.

A constantly moving target of what is or isn’t a distraction, as well as a subjective interpretation of existing reckless driving laws, make this topic hard to pin down. Let’s face it, a distraction for one driver – applying make-up, for example – isn’t necessarily a distraction for another. Like it or not, driving experience and ability are factors, which gives some truth to that saying – it’s only a distraction if you’re caught or in an accident. That’s why reckless driving laws are primarily enforced – or created – as reactionary measures. Is talking on the phone behind the wheel that much different than drinking a cup of coffee?

This isn’t meant to condone texting and driving, just to point out that this is why uniform hands-free laws are hard to come by. As we become more connected and more dependent on our mobile devices, it’s likely that driving habits that are legislated against today will become commonplace tomorrow. With everything that we’ll likely be able – if not allowed – to do behind the wheel, merely talking on a handheld will seem as antiquated as using a rotary phone. Not to worry, though. Once a self-driving car appears in every driveway, all this debate over what is and what isn’t a mobile distraction will go the way of fuzzy dice on a rearview mirror. Then instead of laws agains t looking at Google Maps, state legislators will scramble to put new laws on the books that outlaw napping while driving.

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