A while back I wrote something about distracted driving and attempts to tech around the issue:

Many applicable mobile apps aren’t even trying. One of the better navigation apps out there is HERE We Go. It has offline maps, up-to-date maps, decent time estimates, and good speed limit alerts. However, if you’re wanting to put in a destination that’s already in your address book, you’re looking at a minimum of six button presses and usually seven. The good news for them and other drivers is that I’m not going to even attempt that on the road (Google Maps has reasonable good voice direction), but it doesn’t appear to be designed with actual use in mind. Due to this, I often just end up not using it to begin with.

Others, meanwhile, may be trying too hard. I can’t speak to Apple’s efforts, but I’ve test-driven Android Auto and found that the biggest problem I had with it was that it was way too conservative. I simply can’t do the things I want to do with it. Rather than meekly accepting this, I end up bypassing it entirely and using my own setup. I think my setup has a similar risk profile as using a dash-top GPS device and the car stereo; it could be a lot safer. But Google has its own concerns, the biggest of which is they have strong liability incentives to err on the side of caution. If I’m not using their system and I get into an accident, that’s not their problem. If I’m using their system, plaintiff’s attorneys may start asking, “Why did you allow this feature that took people’s eyes off the road?” The end result is more overall risk.

We might like to think that we can convince people not to do dangerous things, but that’s not going to work. We’re at that uncomfortable phase where we have the ability to do more things than ever, but we haven’t figured out how to make it easy, non-distracting, and seamless. All the while, we are arguably discouraging further innovation that will help us get there faster. The long term solution is going to be cars that scan for pedestrians and whatnot. But in the meantime, suggesting that we should keep these things shelved until they’re really safe is ultimately going to be encouraging people to text with one eye and one hand while trying to keep the other one of each on the road.

My general thought is that even if the technology doesn’t completely mitigate the dangers of distracted drivers, every little bit helps.

Sometimes, though, it’s quite worse than nothing. There are aspects of Android that may fall into that category, unfortunately. Specifically, their voice system needs a lot of work and in some cases may actually be worse than nothing.

There are two ways I listen to music when I’m driving, one of which is an app called Poweramp and another is the Google Play Music app. In the former case, if you’re looking for a particular song or artist you have to navigate your way to it. That’s eyes off the road and that’s not good. The latter works with voice very well! I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark” and it plays “Smoke Rings In The Dark” by Gary Allan and if I say “Play Gary Allan Smoke Rings In the Dark album” it will play the album by the same name. When it works, it’s a much, much safer alternative.

Except that when it doesn’t work, it’s worse than going through menus. And the problem is that it works about 75% of the time. The main way to know whether it’s working or not is to actually watch it. Which means taking your eyes off the road. Worse yet, with Poweramp you can at least choose *when* to take your eyes off the road. You can find some point where there are no cars around you, then tap tap tap. Not good, but not the worst. Meanwhile, with GPM the tendency is to watch and see what it’s doing right then and there regardless of what’s going on around you.

Now, you can actually avoid this by only doing the voice system at a point in driving where you would be comfortable with tap-tap-tap, but it’s not as intuitively obvious that you should and so it’s easier not to.

So the long and short of it is… Android has a lot of work to do. Lives probably depend on it.


Category: Road

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

6 Responses to When Safety Measures Are Worse Than Nothing

  1. Dr X says:

    I use Waze, which is a great app except that hands-free sucks, or I’m just not good at it.

  2. Dr. X says:

    What I like about Waze is that real-time traffic tracking and routing is quite good, in my experience, and vital to getting around a congested city.

  3. trumwill says:

    I was a Waze devotee for a while. The voice features I mention here work best with Google Maps, though, so I’ve migrated back to that. The routing isn’t as good, and I miss the heads up on the police, but Google Maps has the thing where it can tell you exactly which lane to be in which is nice. But mostly it’s about the voice feature.

  4. dan d says:

    Over at Maribou’s echo chamber I see the following comments,

    Well we had somewhat of a bipartisan agreement on immigration 15 or 16 i think. The hard liners on the right didn’t want it. Damned if i can see any way to get enough of the sides together to fix the darn thing.

    and

    Every attempt to fix the problem since then has been scuttled by anti-immigration xenophobes in the GOP, the same ones who made Trump the nominee.

    and

    Moderates in the GOP have been trying, since the Bush Administration, to compromise with Democrats to make the system somewhat less broken at every turn. Each time they’ve been stymied by the xenophobic wing of the party, no matter who controlled Congress or the White House.

    This is the type of thinking that pushes me toward adopting harder line on immigration. In polling few Americans support increasing the level of immigration, the GSS from 2010-2015 has then says it’s 15% more recent polling shows support closer t 30% by any measure Americans oppose it by a two to one margin*. Every so called compromise immigration bill that was proposed increased the level of immigration. Yet somehow the narrative is that the people being unreasonable in the immigration debate are the ones that are on the same side as 70% of the people. The people who are the biggest problems in the immigration debate are the so called moderate chamber of commerce Paul Ryan’s, who want to please both a pro-cheep labor donor class and anti-immigration voters at the same time. Anti-immigration hardliners such as Mark Krikorian believe that the best way to reduce is immigration is to go after the employers, but the co called moderates are strongly opposed to it.

    For what it’s worth my ideal immigration plan.
    A million dollar fine on employers for each employment violation with strict liability so that employers being shocked-shocked that they were given false documents doesn’t mean anything.

    Any illegal immigrant that notifies the government about their employers will be given permanent legal status.

    Replace ICE with an undercover enforcement agency that poses as job seekers with fake documents in order to snag employers.

    Keep current legal immigration levels the same, I don’t see any more problems with the current composition but a more open to changes.

    A grant of permanent legal status to all illegal immigrants that have been in the country for 5 years or more.

    Ideally I’d like a sh*t or get off the put provision to naturalization but it’s not that important.

    Things I absolutely oppose
    Guest worker programs.
    Any increase in legal immigration levels.

    *a majority all impose reducing legal immigration levels the plurality is the keep current levels where they are.

    • trumwill says:

      You make some good points, which up until the ascent of Trump actually had me moving towards the center on immigration. There is a lot of disingenuousness on the pro-immigration side (as well). It’s not clear what measures of enforcement they are actually willing to get behind.

      A long time back I talked of The Trumwill Plan, which was actually what you mention above about amnesty for unauthorized immigrants that drop the dime on their employer and that would result a lot of them going home. I was told that the anti-immigration folks would never go for it, but when Romney brought up the self-deportation thing (which is basically what such a plan is) it was the left that went nuts. That jaded my view of the pro-immigration side.

      But then the anti-immigration side rallied behind Trump, and that was the end of that. I know they had their reasons, but the importance of the disingenuousness of the other side has been overtaken by events.

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