Gadgets Don't Kill People. People Kill People. - InformationWeek

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2/16/2005
01:53 PM
Mike Elgan
Mike Elgan
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Gadgets Don't Kill People. People Kill People.

Studies appear to show that mobile phones, sound systems, GPS devices and electronics of all sorts distract drivers and make accidents more likely. The reality is that inattentive, unskillful or unwise drivers cause accidents, not their gadgets.

Studies appear to show that mobile phones, sound systems, GPS devices and electronics of all sorts distract drivers and make accidents more likely.

The reality is that inattentive, unskillful or unwise drivers cause accidents, not their gadgets.

In the past decade, the use of phones and other electronics by drivers has increased radically, yet during this time overall accidents have declined. What has changed is our perception of what is causing accidents.

For example, if some idiot is tailgating while yammering away on the phone and they get into an accident, you can bet the phone will be blamed.

Calls to ban mobile phones in cars are based on bad information. Yes, a person can be distracted by a cell phone call. But they can also be distracted by daydreaming, listening to music, rubber-necking, and other activities.

I consider myself something of an expert on in-car gadgets. I drive a Toyota Prius, which is a gas-electric hybrid vehicle with an LCD display in the middle of the dashboard. In addition, I have a big, color GPS on top of the dash, and a Sirius Satellite radio gadget between the seats. And I typically yak away on my Treo 650 phone while driving.

There are those out there who think that banning all this from my car would make me a safer driver.

In truth, the most distracting thing I've ever put in my car is my wife. She's a backseat driver par excellence, and just a distracting person in general.

I think most people would agree that passengers can be at least as distracting as gadgets. Yet I haven't heard calls to ban passengers -- or marriage.

What's really happening is that, once again, government is slow to respond to technology. Driver training should include tips and information about managing one's own mental awareness.

Airplane pilots are taught and tested on how to stay focused on flying regardless of distractions; how to keep attention outside of the airplane instead of looking too much at instruments; and "resource management," which is how to safely access charts, airport information and other data.

Police squad cars are loaded with two-way radios, computers and other distracting equipment, yet nobody is calling for these things to be removed. The cops are trained to use them safely.

Drivers should be trained with specific education about coping with driving today, rather than, say, driving in 1955.

Prospective drivers are tested on using hand signals for turning, for example, but nothing about using a GPS safely. How many people do you think use a GPS compared with the number of people using hand signals?

Let's stop pretending that mobile phones and other in-car devices are going to go away, and start catching up with reality in our driver education and testing. More importantly, let's make sure we don't hand out licenses to anyone who can fog a mirror. Driving should be reserved only for people who are willing to pay attention to their driving and not be distracted by anything, including gadgets.

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