Crime and Punishment — Distracted Driving

It is difficult to attribute a single cause to any given crash without full audio/video proof. Much can be done to show what a given vehicle was doing up to the point of impact but how it got into that situation may in many cases never be proven. The only way to resolve this situation is to equip every vehicle with dash cams that look both forward and back. The drawback is the loss of personal privacy most feel is an absolute right.

However, most crashes here in the States can now be attributed to “distracted driving”. Not all by any means, but most. The problem is that today the cars themselves contribute to that distraction by information and entertainment systems that drag the driver’s eyes off the road. The driver tends to lose their spacial awareness of what’s going on around their vehicle as they work to select a specific track in their music collection or try to follow their nav system’s map or maybe even just looking at the vehicles operating data such as live fuel economy or other relatively insignificant datum. Essentially, the driver is getting information overload when their attention needs to be outside the vehicle. How do we fix that? Legislators tend to believe that criminalizing the activity is sufficient. Make it costly in time and money and people will stop doing it, right? Wrong. All it does it create more criminals without actually solving the problem. What’s needed is a real solution. But what?

Well, one way might be to move the displays onto HUD units (heads-up display.) The entire instrumentation display could easily be projected onto the windshield itself and, if designed properly, could take up far less space than current instrumentation through a lens that expands the imagery onto the glass in front of the driver.

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(screenshot from Gran Turismo Playstation game)

The obvious advantage is that the driver’s eyes never leave the road and the data itself can be presented in a less-distracting format; digital representations of analog displays, for instance. Additionally, and more Importantly, rear-view data can be displayed in a more intuitive manner that’s less likely to be blocked by obstacles within the vehicle–though current safety regulations prohibit such as the primary rear-view solution. Treating the windshield as a kind of racing-game display would actually be highly effective towards keeping drivers’ eyes on the road. The more you limit the demand to pull your eyes off the road, the less distracted the driver is from what’s going on around them.

In other words, the laws punishing people for distracted driving will not fix the problem, merely exacerbate it. At least here in the States, pulling someone’s license doesn’t necessarily stop them from driving in an illegal manner–they’ll just drive illegally.