Park, Reverse, Neutral, Auto?
Automation is the solution. Imagine that you are a distractible (and reckless!) driver. You reach for the wheel and prepare to stomp the accelerator—but no wheel or accelerator is there. Your car smoothly accelerates down the entry ramp at the perfect speed. As your car merges onto the highway, two cars slide apart and yours slips in between them with inches to spare. Welcome to the age of automation—welcome to the future. Using swarm modeling, the individual destinations, routes, and positions of thousands of cars will be used to provide a driving experience free from the threat of human error. Although a wheel and pedals would be available for you to park your car or drive into your garage, most of the high-speed, dangerous driving that occurs on the highways would be automated. As you approach a highway entrance ramp, the steering wheel and pedals of cars would retract and autopilot would initiate. This technology would be implementable if each car manufactured were equipped with a small wireless broadcaster/receiver in addition to a GPS unit. The car’s onboard computer would only need to calculate the speed of the cars that surround your car, their distance from yours, and your final destination. The car’s onboard computers would send this metadata to the nearest cars so that a path to the necessary exit ramp could be determined. The positions of each car would be easy to calculate with a small gyroscope, altimeter, and triangulation. With this technology in place, America’s highways—with their dangerous speeds and temptations to use a cell phone on its long, boring, straight sections—would be safer. However, the cost of implementing such a strategy for preventing distracted driving and the issue of dealing with vehicles without this technology makes such a proposition, though the best option, useless in the short run. Given that most distracted driving stems from obsessive cell phone use in the car, there are two shorter-term approaches that could potentially save millions of lives over the next decade. One approach would be for software developers to integrate programming that would detect that the owner was driving a vehicle, into the two main cellular operating systems—iOS and Android. Currently, phones with both of these operating systems have more than enough capability to detect that the owner is in a moving vehicle. For example, accelerometers could measure that the phone is moving at sixty miles-per-hour and the GPS would detect that the user is on a major road. The operating system would subsequently disable features such as social media, texting, email, and web-browsing, leaving only the crucial elements—phone and GPS—that a traveler might need. The other approach would be for the cellular network providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.) to determine based on triangulation that the owner of the phone is in a fast-moving vehicle and to potentially block service or reduce the network speed to disallow social media and web-browsing distractions. These two options are viable in the short-run, easy to implement, and can be tested within certain areas in order to gather data to determine whether these methods are effective. Although I firmly believe that a transition to automated driving is the best possible option, other methods for stopping the scourge of distracted driving could be implemented. While technology is a hazardous distraction to humans on the road, technological advancement could also be used to prevent such distractions from occurring.