Here’s How New Automotive Technology Can Solve Distracted Driving


Are you easily distracted? There’s no shame in admitting it; most people are. Humans are simply hardwired for vigilance. We’re so open to new demands on our attention because, once upon a time, our survival as individuals and family-based bands depended on it.

These days, we face fewer immediate dangers to life and limb, but our neurological circuitry hasn’t quite caught up. That’s why distracted driving is such a serious problem — by some measures, worse even than driving under the influence (which, make no mistake, remains a deadly threat).

“Automotive stakeholders, from car companies and safety regulators to everyday Americans concerned about community safety, understand that distracted driving presents a grave and growing threat,” says Alex Perdikis, a Maryland-based automotive expert. “Arguments related to distracted driving generally concern tactics, rather than the reality that the threat exists.”

Distracted driving is a deceptively complex issue — one that defies easy solutions. But it’s increasingly clear that new technologies will play a large and perhaps decisive role in its amelioration, along with the sorts of cultural and behavioral changes that proved so successful in stigmatizing unhealthy activities such as tobacco use and driving under the influence.

These technologies, all of which are operational or in development, are among the most exciting anti-distraction innovations of the decade. For more detail, check out IPWatch’s excellent piece on distracted driving patents.

Sleep Disruption

Most drivers know to pull over when they feel too tired to continue — but that doesn’t mean they actually do it. Fatigued drivers are dangerous for a whole host of reasons, not least because they’re less likely to concentrate on what’s beyond the windshield.

A Minnesota inventor has a partial solution: a “vibration generator” that kicks in when the driver’s facial metrics and body positioning indicate he or she is nodding off to sleep. Think of it as a rumble strip for the inside of the vehicle.

Insurance Sticks

Leave it to an insurance company to figure out how to penalize drivers merely for thinking about sleeping behind the wheel. That’s the thrust of two recent State Farm patents with mouthy names: “System and Method to Monitor and Reduce Vehicle Operator Impairment” and “System and Method to Adjust Insurance Rate Based on Real-Time Data About Potential Vehicle Operator Impairment.” Basically, these systems gather real-time data about driver impairment, process it remotely, and raise or lower (mostly raise, if history is any guide) insurance rates accordingly.

Put Down the Phone; It Doesn’t Work Anyway

Two separate technologies may bring the ominous wheel boot into the 21st century. Both are designed to forcibly prevent texting or surfing while driving by detecting proximate electronic devices and partially or fully disabling them based on factors such as vehicle speed and heading. In other words, while your car is in motion, you won’t be able to text or snap your friends — because your phone literally won’t work. (AT&T’s Drive Mode app already does something like this in a more passive fashion, but next-gen apps will likely be harder to troubleshoot).

Back in Your Lane

Lane departure warning systems come standard in high-end vehicles today. They’ll likely be available top to bottom by the end of the decade. Lane departure avoidance systems, which manually nudge drivers back into their lanes, aren’t far behind. Pretty soon, you won’t have to worry about drifting out of your lane during a merge or ill-advised catnap behind the wheel, because you won’t be able to.

Are you easily distracted behind the wheel? Which of these solutions sounds like the best fit for your lifestyle?