Not so smart

Not so smart

April 10
15:31 2013

If you’ve ever owned a smartphone, you probably can’t imagine living without it.

Despite the fact that we frequently use these pocket-sized windows into the entirety of human knowledge for nothing more than looking at funny pictures of cats and taking pictures of our food, quite a few of us would be lost without them.

And we mean literally lost, since the GPS-enabled navigation apps on most smartphones are what plenty of plugged-in college students use to navigate the world outside this campus. Our natural sense of direction probably suffers as a result, but at least we rarely get lost.

If you use your phone to navigate the mean streets of Denton while you drive, you can breathe easy for the time being—but you might run into a problem sometime in the future.

A California judge ruled this week that using a maps or GPS navigation program on your phone constitutes distracted driving, which is illegal under state law—and if a law passes in California, it’s a fairly good bet we’ll consider it here in the real world 5 to 10 years later.

Sure, 37 states already ban texting while driving, but should reading a map be considered equally dangerous to other drivers?

Using a cell phone is always going to be risky business when you’re in control of a moving hunk of metal that is fully capable of killing people with extreme prejudice, but where do we draw the line about what really constitutes “distraction?”

Most of us don’t use a GPS with the same attention as typing a text, since reading a map is far more passive than furiously tapping the latest gossip to your obnoxious friends. We’re not even going to address the fact that plenty of current-model cars actually have a GPS unit and screen built into the dashboard.

What about messing with the radio while driving, having a conversation with a passenger or even looking out the window? The truth is that all of these activities are a distraction when you drive, but we’re able to handle them since humans are capable of multitasking.

So, when does a distraction cross the line and become dangerous to you and other drivers?

Just like the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration before driving becomes impaired, we need to establish a cutoff point for distraction.

We had an idea just now: Start strapping stunt drivers into fast cars, give each one a different distraction—phones, fast-food hamburgers, satellite radio, an overwhelmingly attractive passenger—and let them loose on a track somewhere.

Test their performance, jot down their mistakes like an angry driver’s education instructor and figure out which ones are really dangerous. Then, just for fun, get them staggering drunk and try the whole thing again.

Because apparently that’s how you do science, and we’re ready to put this whole thing to bed for good.

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