Thanks largely to the invention of smartphones, this is the age of constant communication and instant information. Sometimes we look around and it seems like everyone around us has a cell phone they are staring at unblinkingly in their hand. While smartphones are revolutionary tools that keep us connected and answer questions with a swipe of a finger, they do come with some drawbacks. One of the most glaring problems is the tendency to use smartphones while driving.
“Distracted driving” is a nice term for using a phone while behind the wheel. There are laws against it for the obvious reason that it is dangerous; in fact, it is deadly. Younger drivers are notorious for fiddling with their phones when they should be focused on the road. Among drivers ages 18-24, distracted driving is the leading cause of death.
Teens and young adults may share the burden of blame for distracted driving, but all too many of us in any age group do it. The official federal government website for distracted driving, distraction.gov, reports that 424,000 people were injured by distracted drivers in 2013.
There is a growing awareness in the public about the dangers that distracted driving presents. We hear horror stories in the media about a teenage driver killing another driver, who they plowed into while responding to a text. Parents of new teenage drivers no doubt have nightmares about this very situation: their sons or daughters texting while in the driver’s seat and causing a serious accident.
But how do you hold drivers accountable for texting while driving?
Enter the SMARTwheel.
This new technology, featured at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, alerts drivers when distracted driving is detected. It is actually a steering wheel cover that snaps easily onto most steering wheels. The device then monitors when and how many hands are on the wheel at any given time. Visual and audio alerts are delivered in real-time if the driver:
- has both hands off the wheel
- has one hand off the wheel for too long
- has both hands too close together (this suggests holding the phone while driving)
For those worried parents out there, or for anybody who is concerned about another’s driving habits, the device’s activity log can be delivered via Bluetooth. In this way, a parent, boss or whoever can find out how diligent, or how dangerous, a driver is while operating the vehicle.
The Progress They Have Made
As of right now, the SMARTwheel only monitors driving behavior. It does have the capacity to eventually support gesture controls, both taps and swipes. In other words, it could control phone functions, so drivers need not remove their hands from the wheel at all.
The monitoring abilities of the SMARTwheel are not totally comprehensive though. There are no lockdown features, so using it requires a bit of trust between whoever installs it and the car’s drivers. The cover could easily be pulled off and tossed aside by a driver not so interested in having his or her driving habits reported. However, the person monitoring the device will know if it has been taken off because no activity will be logged during driving times.
Meanwhile, other technologies are being developed to prevent distracted driving. Most of these are expensive sensors that are not yet affordable or available to the majority of consumers. For example, one technology regulates the position of the driver’s head and pupils, and interjects that data into an algorithm to determine the driver’s focus, or lack thereof.
There are a number of other features being developed to make our cars smarter. Essentially, we are on the cusp of self-driving cars and other vehicle technologies that will make our lives safer and more convenient. The day when when our cars can drive us safely to our destination while we sit back and play on our phones with abandon is not far off. In the meantime, tools like the SMARTwheel are useful solutions to keep us, and our occasionally distracted loved ones, safe when hitting the road.