Distracted driving, meaning engaging in behaviors which take drivers’ attention away from the road, has become a public health crisis. For that reason, many states have begun enacting laws designed to penalize distracted drivers, but many of these face significant legal challenges due to what critics describe as the arbitrary and subjective nature of defining what exactly constitutes being distracted. In what could be a major shift, automaker Mazda has decided to circumvent these legal challenges and develop in-car technologies which could curb distracted driving. Are these technologies the answer, or should we just all hope for the best until self-driving cars arrive?
Mazda hasn’t formally announced the development of their anti-distracted driving tech yet, but one auto industry journalist Bozi Tatarevic noticed a new patent filed by Mazda which seems to hint that these technologies might soon hit the market. The new system uses a combination of cameras and sensors to detect behaviors which might indicate a distracted driver, such as delayed brake times, drifting into other lanes, or responding to changes in the road way too slowly. The system will then notify drivers to pay more attention through subtle cues such as using speakers to amplify engine noise to encourage braking or issuing more stern warnings.
Mazda does not deny the patent, but has declined to comment on any burgeoning technologies. One Mazda spokesperson responded by simply stating that “we still believe fully in the idea that the most powerful computer in the car is an attentive driver, and that the journey is as important as the destination.” Many companies file patents for technology they never plan to develop, and given recent advances in autonomous vehicles, it’s a safe bet Mazda might let this one set on the backburner. Still, the fact that a major global automaker is devoting resources to combat distracted driving shows how serious the problem has become.
You might try to tell yourself that you don’t use your phone while you drive, but let’s face it: we all do it. The increasing ubiquity of mobile technology means that even the driver’s seat isn’t free from the attention-stealing menace that is the smartphone. It might seem harmless to like a comment on your latest Facebook post while you cruise the left lane of the highway, but you’re putting your life and the lives of those around you at risk.