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Driver smartphone use reaches epidemic proportions

A company of four friends makes selfie inside the car

New research from Zendrive has claimed smartphones are being used on 88% of car journeys in the US, drastically increasing the risk of accidents but also building the importance of voice user interface.

It’s a criticism of older generations and technophobes that younger generations spend far too much time engulfed by the online world and a small screen which is increasingly control more of our lives. The art of conversation has gone they’d say, you’re missing out on the world around you.

Zendrive now believes the nuisance of people bumping into you on the street has leaked onto the roads with smartphones causing far too much of a distraction, while the user is supposed to be in control of a couple of tons of steel and a few litres of flammable liquid, travelling at 50 mph. Two items of convenience are now being combined to form a potentially lethal situation.

“Our top finding shows that drivers used their phones during 88% of the 570-million trips analysed,” said Noah Budnick, Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs for Zendrive, on the company blog. “Every day that’s the equivalent of people behind the wheel talking or texting on 5.6-million car rides from our sample alone. When extrapolated for the entire U.S. driving population, the number goes up to roughly 600-million distracted trips a day.”

The statistics themselves are quite damning. During an hour-long trip, drivers spent an average of 3.5 minutes using their phones, with the driver using a device on 88% of journeys. Another study from Oregon State University claims not paying attention to the road for a two second period could increase the risk of an accident from four to 24 times. When you combine the two sets of predictions, Zendrive believes this creates 105 opportunities to get into an accident over the course of the hour journey.

It is a unintended consequence of the importance of technology in our lives; what is supposed to make things easier has in fact turned into a distraction which could become a fatal mistake. Perhaps it is another example of the promise of technology not being truly considered. In a fast, connected world, where employee mobility is a must and answers are demanded almost immediately, the accessibility of information is proving too much for our attention spans. The desire for connectivity and speed has painted a vail over the importance of paying attention on the road.

The connected car is another fantastic step forward, but has the interface in the car become too complicated for its own good. When you have the ability to connect to Bluetooth to scroll through your music libraries, text your friends and set the navigation system through one small screen, when does the touch interface become a hindrance and a danger? Now it would appear.

The connected era is not going away, it is too important to digitally native demographics, who’s lives are run through the small screen, however the scenario does create the impetus for the voice user interface which is becoming more apparent in other circumstances.

In the context of the smart home, the voice interface on your Amazon Echo or Google Home devices may be sold as convenience, but in this example it could well be a safety feature which has been largely overlooked to date. Automotive companies are funding artificial intelligence heavily, though mainly in the pursuit of self-driving cars. Ultimately, these investments will negate any danger which is created through human-error (in theory), but how long will it take for these vehicles to become mainstream? 20 years? 30 years? 50 years? Can we wait that long?

Despite it being illegal to operate a phone while driving a car in many countries around the world, it won’t stop people from having a quick check on Twitter, or taking a flamboyant selfie (#YOLO). Voice interface is catching on quickly, and as far as this scenario is concerned, it couldn’t happen quick enough.

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