Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Radical Proposal: Smart Phones That Lock Up While You're Driving

This really should not be an astounding or controversial proposal, because NO one, literally, should be using a smart phone while behind the wheel. Unless you are parked that is. The clearest recent case to support that proposal occurred barely 10 days ago in Texas, when 13 elderly church members died after their bus was struck head on by a pickup driven by a texting 20-year old driver.

Moments before,  an upstanding citizen called the State police to report the bozo, who even then meandered all over the center line, posing a risk.  But the question enters: What if the only phone available to the driver was one that automatically locked into "driving mode" once he got behind the wheel? Then the phone itself would have acted as de facto cop preventing him from the texting foolishness that caused a needless crash. I mean, 13 people should not have lost their lives because of a distracted, texting twit.

But this could be expanded to much larger proportions, given teen drivers are amongst the worst offenders. Other Americans of every age it seems appear to believe they can text and drive at the same time, but it only takes 0.1 second to ensure a massive accident if you're not paying attention. And no, you cannot do two things at once.  Indeed, a study done by the Washington state Traffic Safety Commission found that texting raised a driver's risk of causing an accident by 23 times. Just making cellphone calls increases your chances of crashing by four times.

This also applies to pedestrians  ambling like mesmerized idiots along busy streets with their noses buried in tiny screens. That's just asking for it.  Current estimates are that 25 percent of all the pedestrians killed since 2011 were done in because of their inattention, i.e. texting instead of paying attention to where they were going.

Let's leave pedestrians out for now, since one trusts they eventually come to their common sense - and besides it isn't likely a texting walker will kill 13 people. That leaves techno apps to lock up use of smart phones will driving. Currently there are four: iZUp,  tXtBlocker, CellSafety and ZoomSafer. When your car is in motion, they lock up your phone so you can’t text, call, e-mail or surf the Web.

To be sure, and allay overt worries, in any emergency they all let you dial 911, and they all let you set up certain phone numbers in advance (like your parents’) that work even when everything else is blocked. But otherwise, you quickly realize that you’re wasting your time trying to bypass the blockade, and you focus on getting where you’re going so you can get back to your phone

My choice would be  tXtBlocker.  It prevents texting, calling, e-mailing or Web surfing when the phone is in motion. It also lets you pinpoint the phone’s location on a map online, so you can track your kid’s comings and goings. Best of all, the parent can define a “no phone” zone, like your kids' school; the phone stops working inside this area. Hence, there'll be no problems with annoyed teachers grabbing the kid's phone and slamming it against the wall - or impounding it during physics or chemistry  labs.

Some whiners, of course, may bawl "Hey! I'm just a passenger! I have to cool it too?"  Well, theoretically I'd say 'yeah' you do. I can't think of any reason a kid or other person  - grownup -can't be without his flashing screen "opiod" for a half hour or less. Or hell, even an hour.

Did I say "opioid"? Yes, I did! Research by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin shows each use of a cell phone tweaks the reward seeking centers of the brain. It causes a burst of endogenous opioids. So it's almost like you're on electronic smack.  The designers of these devices have turned them into mini 'slot machines' that deliver reward payoffs then get users hooked like addicts. Evidence shows that in fact cortisol levels rise in frequent users if they aren't checking their stupid phones at least every 10 or 15 minutes. The neurological conditions set loose are associated with "brain hacking" and it's well to be aware of the phenomenon. See e.g.


This is also why I'd argue that no one being able to use a smart phone in a car makes it easier on the driver, who will then cease to feel so deprived. Instead, the passengers can just chat among themselves or occasionally to the driver, like a normally socialized person would.  But if there is a "Passenger Problem", you can temporarily unblock the phone by solving a timed puzzle.

Another thing I like about  tXtBlocker is it “pings” your phone’s GPS only once every several minutes. As a result, it’s slow to block and unblock the phone — but it doesn’t burn through your phone’s battery as fast as its rivals.

Of course, the downside of all the above named apps is their use is volitional. Even a responsible parent, looking out for Junior or Missy, has to choose to impose the discipline of tXtBlocker.  What we really need is a smart car -smart phone interface which is automatic such that ALL smart phones from the time introduced into a moving vehicle are locked up, especially for the driver.  In other words, we need an tXtBlocker protocol in practice for all drivers possessing cell phones - and the limits on use are set by the phone-car interface as opposed to an outside agent or parent.

That may be years away. but the deadly accident in TX shows the sooner it is in operation for all drivers, the better.  In the meantime, more smart phone users need to become aware of how they are being made more dependent by overuse of their devices in terms of 'brain hacking'.  If a person is aware of his or her phone dependency and yes, addiction, it should be possible to exert a level of control - especially if one is also planning to operate a vehicle.

No comments: