A while back I wrote something about distracted driving and attempts to tech around the issue:
My general thought is that even if the technology doesn’t completely mitigate the dangers of distracted drivers, every little bit helps.
Many applicable mobile apps aren’t even trying. One of the better navigation apps out there is HERE We Go. It has offline maps, up-to-date maps, decent time estimates, and good speed limit alerts. However, if you’re wanting to put in a destination that’s already in your address book, you’re looking at a minimum of six button presses and usually seven. The good news for them and other drivers is that I’m not going to even attempt that on the road (Google Maps has reasonable good voice direction), but it doesn’t appear to be designed with actual use in mind. Due to this, I often just end up not using it to begin with.
Others, meanwhile, may be trying too hard. I can’t speak to Apple’s efforts, but I’ve test-driven Android Auto and found that the biggest problem I had with it was that it was way too conservative. I simply can’t do the things I want to do with it. Rather than meekly accepting this, I end up bypassing it entirely and using my own setup. I think my setup has a similar risk profile as using a dash-top GPS device and the car stereo; it could be a lot safer. But Google has its own concerns, the biggest of which is they have strong liability incentives to err on the side of caution. If I’m not using their system and I get into an accident, that’s not their problem. If I’m using their system, plaintiff’s attorneys may start asking, “Why did you allow this feature that took people’s eyes off the road?” The end result is more overall risk.
We might like to think that we can convince people not to do dangerous things, but that’s not going to work. We’re at that uncomfortable phase where we have the ability to do more things than ever, but we haven’t figured out how to make it easy, non-distracting, and seamless. All the while, we are arguably discouraging further innovation that will help us get there faster. The long term solution is going to be cars that scan for pedestrians and whatnot. But in the meantime, suggesting that we should keep these things shelved until they’re really safe is ultimately going to be encouraging people to text with one eye and one hand while trying to keep the other one of each on the road.
Sometimes, though, it’s quite worse than nothing. There are aspects of Android that may fall into that category, unfortunately. Specifically, their voice system needs a lot of work and in some cases may actually be worse than nothing.
There are two ways I listen to music when I’m driving, one of which is an app called Poweramp and another is the Google Play Music app. In the former case, if you’re looking for a particular song or artist you have to navigate your way to it. That’s eyes off the road and that’s not good. The latter works with voice very well! I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark” and it plays “Smoke Rings In The Dark” by Gary Allan and if I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark album” it will play the album by the same name. When it works, it’s a much, much safer alternative.
Except that when it doesn’t work, it’s worse than going through menus. And the problem is that it works about 75% of the time. The main way to know whether it’s working or not is to actually watch it. Which means taking your eyes off the road. Worse yet, with Poweramp you can at least choose *when* to take your eyes off the road. You can find some point where there are no cars around you, then tap tap tap. Not good, but not the worst. Meanwhile, with GPM the tendency is to watch and see what it’s doing right then and there regardless of what’s going on around you.
Now, you can actually avoid this by only doing the voice system at a point in driving where you would be comfortable with tap-tap-tap, but it’s not as intuitively obvious that you should and so it’s easier not to.
So the long and short of it is… Android has a lot of work to do. Lives probably depend on it.
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