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Let’s remove distractions from the car, not add to them

You can now order a coffee from your car’s touchscreen – while you’re driving. GM has rolled out its new in-car app called Marketplace, which is available to over 2 million drivers today. The app allows drivers to shop and place orders from Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, TGI Friday’s, and – again, while they’re driving. GM expects 4 million drivers to have the app in the US in 2018.

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A simpler, safer alternative to smartphones?

For background, distracted driving with smartphones killed over 3,400 people in 2015. Car crashes killed 37,000 people last year and is the number one killer of teenagers. 25% of car crashes in the US are caused by drivers using their phones.

For their part, automakers like GM say they’re trying to provide a simpler, safer alternative to smartphones in the car. It’s good spin, but it’s also probably really hard for them to ignore potential new revenue streams and opportunities to develop deeper and more personalized relationships with their customers. Automakers are also quick to point out that they’re following the government’s guidelines on distracted driving. The problem is that one of the core guidelines says that automakers should introduce technology that limits off-road glances to 2 seconds. At 55 MPH, that’s the equivalent of driving nearly half a football field blindfolded.

Which is likely why National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman says the Marketplace will increase distracted driving. “There’s nothing about this that’s safe,” she told Bloomberg.

The bigger picture

We’re collectively fighting against the epidemic of distracted driving and still have a long road ahead of us. Fifteen states have introduced laws banning the use of cellphones while driving. The impact has been limited to date and most states aren’t even tracking crashes caused by distracted driving.  Auto insurers are trying to do their part by developing programs to educate and empower drivers around distraction by measuring their own driving behaviors. The tech sector has launched initiatives like Do Not Disturb While Driving from Apple and Do-Not-Disturb from Google, as well as Android’s third party Do-Not-Disturb API for developers. And, of course, there are mobile telematics platforms like TrueMotion dedicated to reducing distracted driving with behavioral data.

The bottom line

Solving distraction is really hard. People are addicted to their smartphones. But the overarching goal should be to remove distractions from the car, not add to them. As it stands today, the combination of classic knobs and touch screens in modern cars can make things more confusing and distracting for drivers. Add to that choosing the kind of latte you want or finding a hotel you like, and it’s hard to imagine how systems like GM’s Marketplace won’t make distracted driving even worse.

Categories: Blog,Distracted Driving