Challenge to Designers: Keep Drivers Focused – Too Many Distractions, Technology Apps Too

By Eric A. Taub

Sept. 27, 2018, NY Times

The large rubber strip that I was speeding toward on the Ventura Freeway near. Los Angeles looked easy enough to avoid. I swerved, but not enough.

That strip was actually metal, however, and it ripped through my right front tire, which went spinning across four lanes of the freeway. Moments later, I was driving 80 miles an hour with one bare metal wheel, sparks flying. I pulled onto a median to await a tow truck, worried for our safety as cars screamed past.

I had been looking at my wife for about four seconds before glancing back at the road. Had I just become a victim of distracted driving? The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration would probably say yes.

Drivers should never take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time, the agency says. The Auto Alliance, a manufacturers’ trade group, agrees. “The odds of a crash double if your eyes are off the road for more than two seconds,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman.

(Excerpt from NYTimes article)

Ray Myers

Daydreaming While Driving – Not a Technological Problem

The biggest distraction in your car might not be the smartphone in your hand. It could be the biochemical circuitry between your ears. On Wednesday I know I talked about the dangers of too many technological diversions that lead to distracted driving and its often deadly consequences. Your brain, however, may be one more thing that you have to keep in check or under control. The brain’s habit of drifting off into daydreams is still the biggest cause of distracted driving crashes, according to an insurance company’s recent analysis of federal traffic safety data.

Yet one of the best ways to keep the mind on task is to find it something else to do that offers some stimulation — but just not too much, said Paul Atchley, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Simple word games can help, and tuning into a radio program or a podcast is better than nothing — but both are much less distracting than a telephone conversation, even with a hands-free device, he said. Some researchers say the phone itself — all that entertainment and connectedness in a single tool in one’s fist — is to blame. Others wonder whether the ubiquitous cellphone and the Web have even shaped the way we think, making a whole generation intolerant of boredom and ever in search of distraction.

Talking with someone on a phone is much more distracting to a driver than even talking to someone in the car. When conversing inside the vehicle, a passenger will generally vary the conversation’s level of intensity and engagement in sync with traffic conditions the driver faces. Carpools, anyone?

Ray Myers

Hands on the Wheel, Eyes on the Road

If you’re driving right now, it’s far more likely you are reading this on your phone than you would have been a year ago. Despite a harrowing surge in traffic fatalities, American drivers appear to be getting worse at avoiding Instagram, e-mail and other mobile-phone distractions while driving. More people are using their phones at the wheel, and for longer periods of time, according to a study published Tuesday from Zendrive, a San Francisco-based startup that tracks phone use for auto insurers and ride-hailing fleets.

“As you have more young drivers on the road, and as people increasingly become addicted to their smartphones, it will continue being a major health issue—almost an epidemic—in this country,” said Zendrive founder Jonathan Matus. From December through February, Zendrive technology monitored 4.5 million drivers who traveled 7.1 billion miles, comparing the results with the year-earlier period. Roughly two out of three of those people used a mobile phone at least once.”

One of the few bright spots of the study is that drivers tend to use their phone as they first start out on a trip, perhaps ending a message thread before settling in for the journey. While that window of time isn’t any safer than any other moment behind the wheel, Matus believes it may present an opportunity for changing behavior. A publicity campaign urging drivers to finish screen work, or just catch up on Instagram, before setting out could produce results. “Legislation, by itself, is clearly not enough,” he explained.

Ray Myers

Goodbye Yellow Volvo.  It was a Gas!

We once owned a yellow Volvo station wagon, 245 series to be exact.  It was a 1977 model and we even personalized the license plate to read “ITZ A 77.”  We were very proud of our first automobile purchase as a married couple and it also became the first car our daughter drove when she was in high school.  It was a very vintage model by then and barely survived until her graduation in 2000.  Let’s just say we like to get our money’s worth and our daughter was just too embarrassed to drive our new 1998 VW Cabrio – too flashy?

But now technology is changing the automotive world.  Volvo seems to be taking the lead.  They have sounded the death knell of the internal combustion engine, saying that all the models it will introduce starring in 2019 will be either hybrid or powered solely by batteries.  The decision is the boldest commitment by any major car company to technologies that represent a small share of the total vehicle market but are increasingly viewed as essential to combating climate change and urban pollution.  Unfortunately, U.S. automakers have continued to churn out S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, whose sales have surged because of relatively low fuel prices.

Maybe so-called President Trump can do something about all this?  But I forgot: he doesn’t believe that climate change is really happening at all.  He is also too busy looking for international enemies wherever they may be?

Ray Myers

Can Robots Really Help to Make America Great Again?

I am dedicating this blog to Donald J. Trump (so-called President) in the remote hope they he might take a passing glance at what some experts say is actually happening with the automobile industry in this country.  Let’s first take a look at Trump’s version of how he will help the automobile industry and its workers (his alternative reality?).  He would like to reduce the miles per gallon requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for American-made cars/trucks. Consequently, we will then burn more gas, and simultaneously increase toxic car emissions into our already polluted atmosphere.  Detroit can then build more cars/trucks that will be less expensive than those saddled with all those environmental protection safeguards.  Not to mention that automobile makers will be hiring more American workers and bring economic relief to depressed parts of the country.  NOT SO FAST!

Thought for today: Automakers are the biggest users of industrial robots, which have hurt jobs and wages in local economies.  Real-world data supports this more pessimistic future.  Researchers were surprised to see very little employment increases in other occupations to offset the job losses in manufacturing.  A recent study analyzed the effect of industrial robots in local labor markets in the United States.  Robots are to blame for up to 670,000 lost manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007, it concluded, and that number will rise because industrial robots are expected to quadruple. And it obviously appears that these hi-tech robots and their “offspring” will be keeping their jobs longer than their human counterparts.

So the challenges just seem to be piling up for the Donald.  I would suggest that he READ some fact-based reporting in a real newspaper (NY Times?).  And stop believing “fake news” and watching FOX TV.

Ray Myers

Better Gas Efficiency, Better Climate

There are a lot of things Americans can do to improve the earth’s climate.  I know that former Vice President Al Gore is a champion in this effort to reduce global green house gas emissions, but the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is obviously not.  Advances in increasing fuel-economy standards for all vehicles is made possible by improved automotive technologies.  A car that gets better gas mileage cuts greenhouse gas emissions.  This is not an “inconvenient truth.”  It is a matter of preserving the planet, and improving the lives of those who live here.  

“If every American household drove a vehicle getting 56 miles per gallon, it would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 percent.  The American new-vehicle fleet now averages less than half that.  It is expected to average 36 m.p.g. in 2025 if Obama administration standards remain in place, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.”  As you may already know, “so-called” President Trump is proposing to abandon these goals in the name of helping the American automobile imdustry build bigger gas-guzzlers that his constituency loves to drive.  And he also wants to improve their health care plans so that no matter how unhealthy the environment becomes, they will have health coverage that is “bigger and better” than Obamacare.   Fortunately, Obamacare is still here, and I only hope that Trump will not succeed in decreasing    the fuell economy standards set by his predecessor.

But I guess that when your hero is Vladimir Putin, you begin to think that you can be just like him.  Oh, they also have lots of gas in Russia, and I am sure we can have as much as we want if we ever run low.

Ray Myers

Social Media as an Addiction

I am not really talking about “so-called” President Trump here, but his use of Twitter seems to come close to this type of diagnosis.  Many prominent social psychologists are studying this digital phenomenon.  I’ll let them decide what advice is best for the current resident of the White House.  Adam Alter, author of “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” warns that many of us – youngsters, teenagers, adults – are addicted to modern digital products.  

“The technology is designed to hook us that way.  Email is bottomless.  Social media platforms are endless.  Twitter?  The feed never really ends.  You could sit there 24 hours a day and  you’ll never get to the end.  And so you come back for more and more . . . There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in.  You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”  And now so many devices are portable that you literally have to put them out of reach if you want some “down time.”

It’s even getting harder now to walk down the street without having to avoid someone with a digital device in hand.  It’s even more dangerous on the highways where your fellow drivers’ eyes are focused on their digital screens and not the road!

Ray Myers

GPS on My Mind and in Your Car

Ever have the feeling that you were being followed?  That feeling may prove to be a reality if you purchased your car with an auto loan as someone with a poor credit rating.  This type of auto loaning has been booming lately, and many finance companies, credit unions, and auto dealers are using technologies to track the location of borrowers’ vehicles in case they need to repossess them.  Lenders are also installing devices that enable them to remotely disable a car’s ignition after a borrower misses a payment.  

The closer monitoring of these devices in cars purchased by low-income Americans comes as cracks are starting to appear in the red-hot auto loan market.  The percentage of auto loans that were at least 90 days delinquent increased to 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter from 3.6 percent in the third quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  The auto finance industry says the benefits of the devices are clear.  Without them, many low-income Americans would not be able to buy cars they need to get to work.  So far, there is no widespread evidence that lenders are misusing information they track from a vehicle’s whereabouts.

I still think this sounds like a case of “borrower beware.”  You may get the loan but your lender will be able to “find” you or even disable your car if you fall behind on your payments.  Some say this is all part of living in the age of the “internet of things.”

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will be away for the next few days.  Back on Wednesday, March 8.  Thanks for following TechtoExpress.

Baby, You Can Drive My Car. Or Not.

Remember the old “Yellow Pages” ad when you were encouraged to let your fingers do the walking.  Now it seems that you may be letting your fingers do the driving.  Autonomous driving, electric cars and ride-hailing apps from Silicon Valley, like Uber, are reshaping transportation.  Young people no longer feel as compelled as previous generations to own cars.  Experts in the transportation sector are changing rapidly.  The whole “mobility market” – transportation as a service – is just at the beginning.

In Germany, under an initiative called Industry 4.0, they are striving to help the country thrive in a smartphone world. The future of Germany as an industrial nation depends on how companies succeed in bringing the manufacturing and digital worlds together.  Industry executives there often cite how Apple’s iPhone quickly erased Nokia’s once-dominant position in the mobile handset market, and they are determined not to let something similar to happen to them.  Google is also entering the driverless car market.  Their market value is more than double that of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen combined.   So instead of owning and driving your own car, you may soon find that your smartphone could be the best means of “ride-hailing” you have.   It will enable you to chose the most convenient means of vehicular travel available to you at any given place and time.

But I wouldn’t get rid of your new BMW, Mercedes, or Volkswagen quite yet.  Maybe you can become a ride service  provider yourself.  You can let your passengers work/play on their iPhones while you enjoy the ride.  That may even be more fun.

Ray Myers

Multi-Tasking Behind the Wheel

Or as Deborah Hersman put it: “It’s the cognitive workload on your brain that’s the problem.” Hersman, president of the nonprofit National Safety Council and a former chairwoman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, said it was not clear how much those various technologies (hands-free) reduced distraction — or, instead, encouraged people to use even more functions on their phones while driving.  And freeing the drivers’ hands does not necessarily clear their heads.”

After steady declines over the last four decades, highway fatalities last year recorded the largest annual percentage increase in 50 years. And the numbers so far this year are even worse. In the first six months of 2016, highway deaths jumped 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This cognitive workload “overload” is not a safe way to drive.   I have trouble listening to the radio and not being distracted when I’m behind the wheel.  And, of course, with my wife in the car, I also have a reliable “co-pilot.”

Please drive safely over this holiday weekend.  It may even be a good time to turn off your “cruise-control?”

Ray Myers

Billboards That Look Back at You

I never thought much about looking at billboards along the highways, or in the cities where they would light up the nightime sky. Now I have found out that they may be looking back too, thanks to the mobile technology we may be carrying in our pockets or purses.”  And while nearly all of these advertising companies claim that the data they collect is anonymous and aggregated – and that consumers can opt out of tracking at any time – privacy advocates are skeptical.”  So maybe we should be too?  I think that we would all like the right to know who is “tracking” us.  

But not to worry.  Remember, we have been assured that all these data are anonymous and aggregated.  Still, people have no idea that they are being tracked and targeted.  In addition, some of the collectors of these data have been sharing (selling?) location information with interested third parties like commercial advertisers.  In addition, many consumers feel they have been misled about what opt-out options there really are.

Maybe the next President and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission can figure this all out when we have new federal leadership in 2017.  Unfortunately, I am not as hopeful as I should be when I look at the unfolding political scene.

Ray Myers

Achtung!  Defeat Device Software in Your VW

Now I know I wrote about too much tech in your car on Friday and how that is becoming an aggravation for many new car buyers, but today I am writing about some software that might help car owners pass those bothersome emission inspections in countries around the globe.  Thus the term “defeat device” for this handy mechanism that will reduce your anxiety whenever  your car might be subjected to some form of tailpipe exhaust testing.  Unfortunately, having  this software in your car may cause you more headaches than when you simply failed car inspection in the past.  It might be more analogous to having passed an examination in school and then being caught for cheating.

What to do?   I am not sure anybody really knows what the resolution of this corporate deception will be.  I can remember a much simpler time when I drove a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle with the engine in the rear, and a sunroof on the top.  A real deluxe model for the time with an AM radio, and turn signals that flashed in whatever direction you wanted to go (earlier 60s models had semaphores that would warn other motorists and pedestrians of which direction you would be turning, Google if you like).

And I think we were not so worried about car emissions back then.  Gas was ridiculously cheap (I’ll let you Google that too).  I may be getting a little nostalgic here, but I am not really interested in going back in time.  It was fun while it lasted, but I think saving Mother Earth is a priority now, over half a century later.

Ray Myers

Too Much Tech in Your Car?

So I am not really alone in struggling with mastering all of the “technology options” in my relatively older 2013 BMW.  It seems that the more technology options are added to your car driving experience, the more technology “problems” appear.  Please allow me to present the official analysis of this situation as described by the lead analyst for the Kelley Blue Book (U.S. “Bible” for estimating used car value). “Technology keeps moving and adding more capability, which keeps the manufacturers running to integrate these new things to be competitive.  But then they are redoing the interface so that all those new things can be added, versus having an interface that’s fairly stable for a few years in a row.”  Well I’m glad that we have finally cleared this all up?

Now for all you technology aficionados out there, you will be interested in knowing that the newer vehicle you drive will have a 100 million lines of computer code, 10 times more than that of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.  You may actually have to learn  more about operating your car than an airline pilot, just kidding, but you will still might get that “cockpit feeling.”  Of course, many drivers may actually be seeking a “Star Trek” experience as they glide over America’s highways and byways.

I still really do like to look at the road (sometimes defensively) when I am driving and enjoy the scenery as the seasons change, even on familiar routes that I travel many times a year.  Now if I had a more elaborate “instrument cluster” on my dashboard, maybe I would become more interested in watching that and become a better driver?

Ray Myers

Driverless Cars Need to be More Human (Aggressive?)

These cars are just too polite.  Engineered for driving safely on America’s highways and bi-ways in the twenty-first century, Google has clearly produced one of the safest vehicles on the road today.  Since 2009 these cars have been involved in only sixteen crashes and, in each case, a human driver has been at fault (company data).  At the same time, the Google car has been pulled over once by the police for driving too slowly!

In the final analysis these driverless automobiles really do obey the “rules of the road” when their human-driven counterparts apparently always do not.  Take the four-way stop scenario: the Google car always seems to politely wait for its turn.  Not unsurprisingly in the human-driver world, this rule does not always seem to apply.  He who hesitates may be lost as the saying goes, but if you are in New Jersey you always have jughandles at stop lights (you may have to do some research on this, sorry).

So it seems that the lesson to be learned for the new driverless cars is tha they have to be aggressive in the right amount.  And that right amount depends on the culture, and there are lot of road ways between Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ray Myers

Technology Brings Car Service and More to You!

Don’t worry about scheduling automobile service appointments with your dealer, and finding an available time and date to bring your car in.   Now a certified mechanic will come to your car wherever it is, knowing all the scheduled service needs.  And even before the servicing begins, you will receive a quoted price that can typically save the customer up to 50% or the standard servicing costs at a dealership.  When the customer agrees to the estimate, the necessary parts are ordered and a mechanics is dispatched to provide the service wherever your car may be.

Once again, this is all made possible through the interactivity of websites and mobile apps that are now available to automobile owners and their dealers.  Interestingly, when you enter into this type of service-client relationship, other aspects of this relationship may also vary.  Let’s take the service rating practices.

One company in particular has instituted a rating practice that involves both the mechanics and their customers.  Customers can rate the mechanics, and the mechanics can rate the customers?  Are we really sure that we want to know what mechanics think of us?

Ray Myers

This is Your Brain on Google – Part Three

Just a few more thoughts about Google’s effect on your brain, and maybe something to think about over the Labor Day holiday.  I can remember the old expression, “he doesn’t have a brain in his head.”   Perhaps you never heard it?  Maybe I did because people were talking about me?  In any case, you really shouldn’t worry about it too much because in the future some experts are predicting that our memories will be going from our heads to the web!  And technology will improve to the point of doing many routine and complicated human tasks.

Two examples are “driverless cars” and “surgical robots.”  Does this make you feel safer on America’s highways and hospitals’ operating rooms?  I just think it will be very unnerving to see empty cars driving past me on the road, especially the high speed lanes, if I am the only “person-driven” vehicle.  And I would hate to be on the operating table and wake up to see a robot telling me the operation was a success, but there at no guarantees!

Maybe all these concerns are really an overreaction on my part.  Or just something on my mind, or in my brain that will soon be going to the web?

Ray Myers

Happy Labor Day Weekend.  I will be taking off too, blogging again on Wednesday next week.

Tech to Reduce Car Collisions

There are a lot of features on a new car I bought last year that I have yet to use or know how to use? Perhaps my problem is that I do not buy a new car that often. The one before this was in 2001. It does seem that a lot of people do like all the new features and get many of them, e.g., in-car WiFi, back-up cameras, heated steering wheels and seats, etc. Seems like car safety, however, is not one of them.

Unfortunately, most car manufactures do not include life-saving features in the vehicle’s base price. For example, automatic emergency brakes will probably increase a car’s price by about $3,500. Having such crash prevention technology in American cars could reduce rear-end collisions, which account for about half of two-car accidents that kill 1,700 people a year. In a recent poll about a third of prospective car buyers said they would rather wait until the crash prevention technology becomes standard, rather than pay for it as part of a “tech package.”

So it seems that it’s all about the sales “packaging,” and not driver and passenger safety. Another case of “you get what you pay for,” but why should car safety be one of those things?

Ray Myers