Brant Huddleston, principal of Danbra, on the need to confront the current epidemic of distracted driving with the same intensity that was once used to protect the public against harmful food-drug and drug-drug interactions.
It all began with cheese.
In the early 1960's, the first clinical problems with dangerous drug interactions were identified when people died after taking a certain prescription drug while also eating a specific kind of Swedish blue cheese. The findings kicked food producers, governments, consumers and pharmaceutical companies into high gear. Those stakeholders collaborated to identify and prevent that dangerous food-drug interaction, and a movement was born.
Today, after decades of focused and collaborative effort, we have a pervasive, well-funded, international system designed to protect the public against harmful food-drug and drug-drug interactions.
A Tufts University study shows that the average cost of bringing a new drug to market is over $800 million, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Clinical Pharmacology estimates that a good portion of that money goes to testing for, understanding and preventing that new drug's interactions with other drugs. And everyone in the delivery chain participates – manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists, governments, advocacy groups and consumers.
Two products, cheese and a prescription drug, both safe when used alone, were dangerous when combined. Similarly mobile devices and cars, when used together, kill.
Car-mobile devices harmful interactions
Among 15- to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes, 21% were distracted by the use of mobile devices. At any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using handheld mobile devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All of us who drive are at risk.
We catch a glimpse of the haunting devastation caused by texting and driving in Werner Herzog's new documentary “From One Second to the Next,” which was funded by AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile. Note who is missing from the sponsorship list? Where are Toyota or General Motors? Why not Apple and Google?
Their absence hints at an underlying problem – a lack of cross-industry collaboration. This deadly problem is not the fault of any one class of manufacturer. Rather, they bear a collective responsibility to solve it with the same intensity as the drug and food industries.
(For more on distracted driving see, Telematics, regulation and driver distraction and Distraction guidelines as a telematics business opportunity.)
Looking beyond the silos
The epidemic of distracted driving is partly the result of companies working in technical and business silos, insulated from one another, protecting their turfs with closed systems. The first text message was sent nearly 20 years ago, and OEMs knew then that mobile devices would distract drivers. Yet here we are, years later, with largely disintegrated systems (mobile device and vehicles) and few reliable tools to modify driver behavior.
Shut out from vital data about the vehicle, app developers are struggling to deliver anti-text solutions, such as Text-STAR by Cinqpoint, DriveScribe by Drive Power and DriveSafe.ly by iSpeech. Some of these apps deliver an automatic response, such as “On the road now ttyl,” so the driver does not feel compelled to answer right away. Others shut off the phone's texting capacity altogether. All of the apps attempt to detect when the vehicle is moving before engaging, and that's where the problems set in.
Mobile apps are crippled by a lack of reliable data about the vehicle, such as if it is moving or not. We must then resort to tricky, expensive and unreliable hacks, such as installing an analog to digital converter on the battery and attempting to discern, through heuristics, what is happening at any given moment. Even harder is using the mobile device's hardware to know the state of the vehicle, as it was not designed for that purpose. Is the car moving, or is it just the device? Is the user the driver or a passenger?
Apps and cars need to talk
How easy it would be for OEMs to provide app developers with a standardized API for extracting life-saving information about the vehicle. Instead, we get seven different versions of the OBD2 hardware interface – evidence of a lack of collaboration.
The app market is harsh. Young people are especially intolerant – they demand excellence. All it takes is a minor irritation in their experience with a driver safety app, and it will go posthaste to the digital dustbin. The driver is then left without a useful tool, relying at best on a vague commitment to do better. But with accidents from texting and driving sharply on the rise, a vague commitment is not good enough. Drivers need our very best help, and they need it now.
So when will the turf wars end, and earnest collaboration begin? When will the public get the same kind of pervasive, well-funded, international initiatives they get from the drug industry, with the same sense of urgency? We are losing almost ten people a day to distracted driving. Why wait one more day?
Brant Huddleston is principal of Danbra, a boutique consultancy specialized in developing technology-based consumer products.
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