Canada’s largest province is doubling down on distracted drivers. Last Tuesday, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed a bill that will increase penalties for drivers who text or use a handheld phone while on the road to as much as $1,000 and a minimum of $300 per incident. Using handheld electronic devices while driving--other than for making 911 emergency calls--has been illegal in Ontario since 2009, but the old fine structure of $60 to $500 wasn’t doing the job. It will be interesting to see of doubling the maximum penalty will be enough to overcome cellphone addiction.
Probably not, since hands-free devices will presumably still be legal, although science tells us that the risk of crashing or running someone down while gabbing on a cellphone is the same 4x increase factor regardless of whether you’re holding the phone or not. The primary problem is that your mind is distracted by disembodied conversation--not that one hand (hopefully only one) is occupied.
Another elephant crowding the distracted driving room is increasing complexity of in-car nav and infotainment systems. Even my 2014 Ford F-150--hardly a worst case in this context--has myriad potential distractions that I choose to ignore as much as possible, including the Ford Sync (“Powered by Microsoft”) integrated voice command system that runs the Windows Embedded Automotive operating system but will switch to the QNX software from BlackBerry for its the third generation (Sync 3). I haven’t even bothered to experiment with Sync in the four months since buying the truck, which is an indicator of my level of interest.
An emerging nuance of distracted driving is wearable devices, not least the Apple Watch. A couple of weeks ago, a motorist in the neighboring province of Quebec was fined $120 and received four demerit points on his driver’s license for wearing his Apple Watch and using it to make music selections while driving. He professed “shock” at receiving the ticket and plans to appeal the charge, which was under a section of the Quebec Highway Safety Code that says “no person may, while driving a road vehicle, use a hand-held device that includes a telephone function.” The driver contends that a watch strapped to his wrist is not hand-held, an argument that has some logical probity. It will be interesting to see what the courts rule in this instance, but it’s really the handheld qualification that is faulty and needs legislative remediation.
However, a thorny problem is enforcement. It’s proving difficult enough to enforce handheld bans with so many cellphone addicts obstinately determined they can’t abide being incognito to calls and texts for even a few minutes or hours. For example, the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) Mental Health and Well-Being Report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that over one-third of licensed Ontario high school students in grades 10 to 12 admitted to not just chattering but to texting while driving at least once in the previous year, with 46% of licensed students in grade 12 reporting this behaviour. Texting behind the wheel incidentally increases probability of crashing by a mammoth 24x, and should be regarded by both the law and social ethics as the seriously criminal and irresponsible behavior it is.
“We asked about texting while driving because research shows that this is a very hazardous behaviour,” said Dr. Robert Mann, CAMH Senior Scientist and Principal Investigator. “We were surprised to find that so many young people are taking this risk.”
FotoNation Limited presents one potential technology solution, entering the automotive market with its new FacePower driver monitoring system that identifies the driver, detects driver drowsiness and distraction, and allows manufacturers to provide customers with an enhanced and safer driving experience. Fotonation advocates driver monitoring as one of the most effective in-vehicle road safety measures, maintaining that smarter driver monitoring systems can help avert accidents caused by driver distraction or inattention.
“Face detection, head position, eye tracking and eye closure detection are the most effective physical markers to determine a driver’s condition,” said Sumat Mehra, SVP of Marketing and Business Development at FotoNation. “Our technology can successfully detect various driver states, even with the presence of image occlusions, such as face masks, head scarves, hats or glasses, and in all lighting conditions. This allows us to deliver the most advanced driver monitoring system on the market. Based on discussions with our partners, we believe some car models will include driver monitoring technologies in 2017 or 2018.
Can’t happen too soon, but will hardcore cellphone addicts use it voluntarily?
FotoNation’s driver monitoring system runs on the Texas Instruments TDA3x System-on-Chip processor, and was showcased this week at the Texas Instruments Booth at TU-Automotive (formerly Telematics Detroit).