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Is technology the cause of car crashes? Or the cure?

Mike Elgan | Nov. 4, 2013
Passing laws to minimise accidents caused by distracted drivers is a good idea. But let's not dump advanced technology prematurely just because we assume it's a distraction, says Mike Elgan.

In this argument, Google Glass is a surrogate for two broad categories of technologies that will soon be widely used: wearable computing devices and heads-up displays.

Within three years, millions of people will be using wearable computers -- mostly smartwatches -- while they drive. Many people will want to wear Google Glass, as well.

Cars will increasingly get heads-up displays, where car and contextual data -- including data fed from driver's smartphone about texts and other notifications -- will appear not on the dash, but overlaid on the edges of the windshield itself. Some luxury cars already have this.

These heads-up displays are better because they're less distracting; you can be perceive them with your peripheral vision, rather than having to take your eyes off the road to look at them. Or even if you do actually glance at the display, the distance your eyes travel is shorter than it would be with other technologies, so the road remains in your peripheral vision while you take note of the information.

And this is precisely the argument for why a driver wearing Google Glass may be safer than one who isn't wearing it. Glass doesn't cover the eyes. Worn while driving, the display is significantly higher than, say, the rearview mirror. Your vision is unobstructed and, unlike a mirror, Glass can be moved with a simple movement of your head.

Google Glass information is hypersimplified and short, and you can perceive it either without taking your eyes off the road or with a glance that's quicker than, say, reaching down and looking at the phone on the passenger seat, as millions of people now do every day.

That might be true of a smartwatch, too. With your hands at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel and your eyes on the road, you could mentally register an incoming alert to the watch with a tiny turn of your wrist and a half-second glance. If this action replaces fumbling for a phone, picking it up, sliding on the screen and looking down at it, then the world might be a safer place.

Advanced technologies like high-end smartphones, Google Glass and smartwatches can also know you're driving, and behave accordingly.

My Moto X smartphone, for example, auto-switches to voice mode for some notifications when it detects I'm in the car. If I get a text in the car, the phone asks whether I want it to read the message aloud. If I do, I can just say "send text" and the phone will reply with a message from me telling the other person that I'm driving and I'll contact them later.

It's almost certain that wearable technologies will do this, too.


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