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Naps, Texts and Videotape: Why We Drive Distracted

It was something Dave Goldman told me earlier this week that caught my attention: "Everyone just wants you to know where they are all the time. Once people know that people are going to know where they are, it will hopefully ease people's minds."

And how will people know where people are? With a product Dave and his roommate have just released.

Since I started blogging about distracted driving I've been inundated with e-mails and press releases from companies that have come up with various "solutions" to the problem. It's as if I blogged about my mouse problem and was swamped by people saying, "Check out my mouse trap."

Well as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. And there is definitely necessity for some kind of action on this problem. Last week I wrote about ZoomSafer. Today I'm going to cover a few other products. Please note that I have not tried any of these. I've just read the press releases and, in a few cases, talked with company representatives. Here's my report, helpfully headed with cheesy '70s/'80s song references:

TextBak, Honky Cat
Dave's a real estate developer in Orlando. His roommate, Michael Fischman, is a pharmaceutical representative. "We're both 25-year-old guys so there's a lot of texting," Dave said. They wanted something that would let friends know that maybe they were busy and couldn't read or respond to a text. They're not computer guys themselves so they went online and found a programmer who was able to whip something up to their specifications.

The result is Auto TextBak, a $2.99 program that you download to your Blackberry. It's basically like the out-of-office message you have on your work e-mail. If someone texts you they get a message back: "Can't text now; I'm driving," or whatever. (You can come up with your own message.)

While Dave sees this as a way to address distracted driving, it was actually his roommate's napping that kept being interrupted by texts. "My roommate was sleeping and he was frustrated by the amount of texts he had and hadn't responded to. He said, 'I just want people to leave me alone and know that I'm sleeping.'"

Why not just turn the phone off? "I guess people feel the risk of alienating themselves. Everyone's so connected now. You have your Twitter status, Facebook.... Nobody wants to be disconnected from the world."

It's important, Dave said, that people know what you're doing. A text back that reads "I'm taking a nap" satisfies peoples' curiosity.

Come on iLane
The iLane is a glossy black box about the size of a deck of cards. It's almost Apple-like in its designer plainness (and I wonder if Apple has the right to sue over that name). Plug iLane into your vehicle's cigarette lighter and it comes alive, allowing you to control your smartphone via voice command.

The iLane's video demo makes it clear who this product is aimed at: business people who want to utilize every moment of their day, having incoming texts and e-mails read to them, checking their calender, sending voice messages. God, I hope I'm never that busy.

To my mind, the demo doesn't sell iLane as a tool against distracted driving. Yes, the driver ("Damon") is keeping his hands off his phone and his eyes on the road, but he's talking so much to his dashboard that he's got to be distracted.

And what about that? Isn't it safer just to turn the phone off? "We agree that when driving you should be engaged in doing nothing but driving," Ken Truffen, vice-president of marketing at IMS (the developers of iLane), told me. "However we're looking at the reality of the situation. This is a thing that people are doing.... Whatever law you put in place there will be a large number of people who text while driving, check their e-mail, their calender. I think it's naive to think people are are going to stop doing that."

The iLane costs $399.

Who's Gonna DriveAssist You Home?
Yesterday I mentioned that a survey by Nationwide Insurance found that a majority of Americans welcome restrictions on texting while driving. The insurance company is throwing its hat into the DWD ring by offering a discount to customers who use something called DriveAssist.

What's DriveAssist? It's a product that, like the ZoomSafer I wrote about, uses motion-sensing technology to activate a program on a cellphone. It appears to be aimed at teenagers, or rather at parents who are worried that their teenagers are texting while driving. This video is overlong but it shows how DriveAssist works. And it's hard not to be moved by the man who introduces the video.

No word yet on how much DriveAssist will cost or what sort of discount Nationwide customers will get for using it.

The Mobileye of the Tiger
Finally, I received a press release from a company called Mobileye. It begins:

Global vision-based analytics pioneer Mobileye Inc. today announced the introduction of the C2-170, a driver-safety system developed specifically for aftermarket applications in passenger and fleet vehicles.

A modern, comprehensive, single camera-based safety solution for accident prevention and mitigation, the Mobileye C2-170 has generated international automotive industry acclaim, receiving the United Kingdom’s prestigious Fleet Safety Forum Award for Excellence 2009 , sponsored by Brake - Road Safety Charity - in the Fleet Safety Product category.

No, I don't know what that means either. Apparently, Mobileye is a camera mounted in the vehicle that is connected to a warning unit. If you stray from your lane--because, say, you're busy tapping out a text--a beep will alert you. You can watch Mobileye's scary video here. No one wants to see a cute teenage girl in a convertible Volvo run over a handsome tradesman, but it's possible this product comes rather late in the chain of events. Does Mobileye seem to suggest: Go ahead and text. We'll let you know when you need to grab the steering wheel.

While I laud all of these inventors, I can't help wondering if there isn't a cheaper solution: When you get in the car, turn off your phone. If it makes you feel better to send me $2.99 for that advice, fine.

By John Kelly  |  September 3, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Distracted driving  
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"God, I hope I'm never that busy."

I've turned down jobs that would've come with substantial raises (raising my income to above 100k ) because they were management positions, and that's too much time out of my life.

Posted by: wiredog | September 3, 2009 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Re today's commentary on over-texting:
What's so sad about all this texturbation is that it expresses a very real need to express our thoughts and feelings to others and receive same from them. There's really only one truly good way to do that: it's called conversation. In person. Face to face, eyeball to eyeball.

Unfortunately, we are too immersed in our various digital miniworlds to do much of that. We're starving for a real meal, and we're getting digital Cheetos instead! And does anyone else out there get *tired* of people being able to "find" them all the time, and of the obligation to be "find-able?"

Posted by: Philosophe | September 3, 2009 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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