Earlier this week, the topic of discussion on NPR’s “On Point” radio show was the scourge of distracted driving. There are people working on smart technologies to stop people from doing tasks that require too much attention when they are moving at high velocity. There are apps that track high cognitive activities such as browsing and texting. These apps would be the equivalent of a “breathalyzer,” and cops could ask to see your device if you were stopped for a traffic violation. Supposedly our legal system would let people off the hook if the passenger stated under oath that they were the one using the device, not the driver. Just as social pressure has been used to greatly reduce the acceptability and frequency of drunk driving, social pressure is being used to bring awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.
The main danger is often said to be the driver taking eyes off of the road. Usually the eyes are linked to using the device while it’s in the hands. Hands are surely linked to the brain. But there have been studies showing that hands free driving is still distracted driving, and causes just as many accidents.
We See with our BRAINS
We have to remember, or realize, that we see with our BRAINS as much as we see with our eyes. The largest part of our brain is devoted to visual processing. While some people are undoubtedly better at multi-tasking than others, most of us over-rate our abilities in this area. See http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0054402 which includes the following
Ophir et al.  found that persons who frequently multi-task ….may be those who are the least cognitively equipped to effectively carry out multiple tasks simultaneously.
When we’re talking on the phone, it is not like talking with someone riding in the vehicle with us. It might be more like having a crying baby or a bunch of rowdy kids with us. The person at the other end of the line, the crying baby, the misbehaving kids, do not quiet themselves to allow you, the driver, to pay attention to the road when the situation demands. The person at the other end of the line, the crying baby, the misbehaving kids, are unaware that it would be safer for all if they were quiet, to allow the driver to pay attention to rapidly changing circumstances. In the case of the person at the other end of the line, they entangle the driver in their local “thought field,” (see this related article on shared consciousness), which is usually related to something other than the road conditions.
This realization came to me some years ago, when almost everyone believed that hands free cell phone use while driving meant safe cell phone use. That was well before the advent of smart phones. I had a client who had told me he thought that there should be two levels of drivers licenses. One for regular people, and one for those who had demonstrated that they could read while driving. He was a smart guy overall, and the above referenced work at the University of Utah leads us to believe that there could be test to allow the competent multi-taskers to be certified. But I still do not think I like the idea. A lot can happen in the blink of an eye when traveling at high speed.
Despite this, I’m also not a fan of driverless vehicles.
When is someone going to show that this emperor has no clothes?
We can’t keep our credit cards, bank accounts, medical information, social security numbers secure. We can’t keep our computers free of viruses and malware. How are we going to prevent hackers from creating giant accidents?
I guess we’ll “just have to get used to those giant “accidents,” as we are having to “get used to” attacks by terrorists and the neglected mentally ill.
Update October 30, 2016
Hallelujah. Greedy, hubris drenched capitalist gets his come-uppance!