It's not surprising, given Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's intensive focus on the issue and increasing numbers of states banning activities such as texting or using hand-held phones while driving. And just before Christmas, the Department of Transportation announced a proposal to ban the use of hand-held phones behind the wheel by commercial truck drivers.
Although these announcements appear to be aimed at consumers in passenger cars rather than commercial drivers, it's still an interesting trend. Some of these technologies have already been seen in the commercial truck market; others, I suspect, may find their way from the passenger vehicle market to the truck market, like voice-activated Internet access.
A Sampling of Announcements
Audiovox, for instance, says its new technology is an expansion of their collision avoidance camera and sensor programs that have been supplying the aftermarket for the last several years. It's teamed up with Iteris, a name that is likely familiar to truckers for their lane-departure warning system in heavy trucks. It also uses forward collision warning technology, another safety option that's been available in the trucking arena for years.
The Audiovox driver assistance alert system will provide an audible warning to the driver if they cross over the lane markings without engaging their turn signal. It also warns the driver if they are following too close to the vehicle in front of them, or if their closing speed in relation to the car in front is likely to cause a collision. As Audiovox says, "It pays attention even when the driver doesn't!"
Hyundai announced its Blue Link telematics technology, which among other things "will let drivers browse the Web, text and e-mail in a non-distracting manner." It features voice-activated Internet browsing, among other features.
Drive Safe Software by PhoneGuard uses GPS to track speed and coordinates, automatically turning off a mobile phone's texting capabilities when the phone is in a moving vehicle. The announcement targets both parents and employers of commercial drivers.
And Taser -- that's right, the company that makes the controversial police enforcement weapons -- announced the Protector safe driver system. It consists of a hardware device in the car, paired with a smartphone app. When the car's running, the base unit sends out a Bluetooth signal. The phone app then locks down the phone so only pre-approved functionality can be accessed, locking out access to texting, e-mailing, web-surfing and other functions that are dangerous to use while driving.
Adding to Distraction
On the other hand, some announcements seem destined to ADD to the driver distraction problem. For instance, The Joy Factory unveiled accessories for the iPad and iPhone that allow the devices to be mounted to the seat, "to allow users to maximize their smart phones and tablets on-the-go. Road warriors now have more options to utilize their iPhone or iPad hands-free as a navigation, communication and entertainment system."
Doug Newcomb, senior technology editor at Edmunds.com, who is providing updates from the show at http://blogs.insideline.com/straightline/, said that the CES show, the world's largest consumer technology tradeshow, is highlighting technology that brings Internet access and connectivity into the car, while also introducing features that aim to combat distracted driving.
While Internet capabilities were first available in cars a few years ago, the trend is currently picking up speed via a wide range of new applications, including onboard Wi-Fi and using a connected smartphone to provide Internet access.
"There are many integration, compatibility and driver distraction issues that will need to be resolved, but we will start to see these technologies in cars in the very near future," he noted.