Driving, delivering, skiing while distracted

Whether one’s driving or skiing, tech distractions abound:

• As Heather Somerville writes for SiliconBeat, she went on a ride-along with an eBay Now courier last week. The woman, who in this case was a 25-year-old part-time student, was tasked with delivering goods ordered by San Francisco customers within an hour — it’s all part of the competitive world of instant-gratification e-commerce that has given rise to same-day deliveries. One of the things that stood out: The courier said she hasn’t gotten a traffic ticket yet, but Somerville wrote that “the demands of her job require her to text, make and answer calls, and check the eBay Now app almost continuously from behind the wheel.”

• California law allows hands-free phone calls and texting. But a new study shows driving performance — including the all-important reaction time — suffers whether a driver texts by hand or using voice-activated software such as Apple iPhone’s Siri, the Merc’s Gary Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Roadshow, writes. The study, by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, involved just 43 participants. But other similar studies are expected to follow, including one by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. And in case you didn’t know, it is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

• So… are driverless cars the answer? They would make the hand-wringing about hands-free texting moot, right? The California DMV heard public input late last week as it considers possible rules for self-driving vehicles. “I would be more than happy to trade my slower reflexes and declining peripheral and nighttime vision for an automated chauffeur whose mind doesn’t wander,” said Tom Sawyer of San Jose, according to Mr. Roadshow. Among the regulatory questions: Who would be responsible in case of a crash? What if a self-driving car runs a red light?

• Let’s turn to skiing, complete with TMI sports goggles. No, that’s not a trendy new brand of eyewear, we’re talking “too much information.” That’s what critics and worrywart lawyers (who have a point) say about goggles with high-tech displays that inform the wearer of things like how many runs she has skied, or his speed. Oakley sells such ski goggles for $600, according to the New York Times, which also reports that “cutting-edge eyewear technologies” had a booth for the first time at the International Vision Expo last month. Other specialized high-tech specs are available for cyclers and runners and people who want to track and record their movements and antics. It’s all part of the rise of wearable computing, which the Merc’s Pat May wrote about last month. But it’s one thing to wear a Fitbit wristband to record your steps and calories, it’s another to check out your altitude — and possibly incoming text messages — on goggles you’re wearing as you ski down a steep slope.


Are self-driving cars the answer to distracted driving? Photo by Getty Images


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