At the CES 2017 consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, Ford announced that it has teamed up with Amazon to put a personal electronic assistant device called Echo in Ford’s Focus Electric, C-Max Energi, and Fusion Energi models, with more to follow.
The upside is that you will be able to tell Amazon Echo’s Alexa to start your car while you are still sipping coffee at the breakfast table. You also will be able to lock and unlock your Ford from a distance and check vehicle information such as fuel levels. Those functions are the first wave.
Come summer, Alexa will be riding shotgun in your Ford. Once that happens, drivers will be able to keep their hands on the steering wheel and command Alexa to give weather or traffic reports, play music or news, put an item on a shopping list, or get directions and have the destination plugged into the car’s navigation system. Echo also is designed to learn new tricks: Turn on the lights at home, lock the doors, or open the garage, for instance.
Are We Getting Too Smart?
The integration of a smart home system such as Echo and your automobile could have a downside, too. The concern is that schmoozing with Alexa will increase opportunities for distracted driving, something that surging technology already has helped worsen to an alarming rate.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says 2015 ended a five-decade stretch of declining highway deaths. The year brought a 7.2 percent increase – 35,092 lives lost, the biggest single-year rise since 1966. The administration is looking for answers. What it already knows is that job growth and lower fuel prices have increased miles traveled, with more leisure travel overall and more driving by young people. NHTSA also knows for sure that 1 in 10 fatalities in 2015 involved distracted driving.
Technologically speaking, much of the problem is with smartphones (particularly texting), navigational devices, and entertainment systems. And sure, Alexa will operate your electronic devices while you keep both hands on the wheel, but focusing on Alexa also takes your mind off the road.
The take-away: If talking to your smartphone can be dangerous, the same risk likely arises during chats with Alexa.
Conversely, Ford contends that linking its vehicles and Amazon’s personal electronic assistant will keep drivers’ hands on the wheel and save lives.
Be Sure Safety Drives Your Technology
Ironically, the answer to technology’s negative effects on highway safety probably is new technology that blocks access to, yes, technology. Some smartphones have a driver mode that can shut down intrusions such as texts and calls. There are apps that can do the same thing for various models of phones.
Auto manufacturers also are designing electronic devices to minimize distractions, such as navigational systems that don’t let you enter addresses unless you are stationary. There are even devices such as CellControl that, according to the company that makes it, eliminates “unsafe behaviors while encouraging safe usage while driving.” The device blocks cellphone functions and even allows parents to monitor their children’s driving habits.
And Uncle Sam is prodding automakers to design limitations into systems such as Ford’s.
Here’s What You Can Do
While manufacturers are busy adding IQ points to smart devices, there are some basic rules that can curb distracted driving accidents:
- Friends don’t let friends drive distracted. In short, passengers can reduce distractions for the driver by taking over distractions, from taking care of the music and cellphone communications to controlling navigation devices.
- As a parent, teach by example. The group End Distracted Driving has a pact families can sign, the Family Safe Driving Agreement. It’s printable, and the document states that those who sign it will drive safely and try to help others do the same.
- Do all your tinkering with climate control, sound, navigation, and entertainment systems before the wheels start turning. Pick your route and check traffic reports well in advance. If something must be done that will distract you from driving, pull off the road and do it safely.
- Use voice commands and Bluetooth as little as possible.
Know Your State and Local Laws
Texas law largely steers clear of governing drivers’ use of electronic devices. The Texas Department of Transportation does note that drivers “who use cell phones in their vehicles have a higher risk of collision than drivers who don’t, whether holding the phone or using a hands-free device.” Texas does dictate that:
- People with learner’s permits are barred from using handheld cellphones while driving during the first six months.
- People younger than 18 are not allowed to use wireless communication devices while driving.
- School bus drivers are barred from using cellphones while children are on board.
- Drivers aren’t allowed to text or use hand-held devices while in school zones.
Austin is one of more than 90 cities in Texas with local restrictions on the use of portable electronic devices while driving. In the city’s own words: “Unless using a hands-free system such as Bluetooth or headphones, or a GPS system, use of portable devices while driving a car or operating a bike will be a citable offense.”
The city can levy a fine of up to $500.
Waco hasn’t followed Austin’s lead – yet.
Get Legal Help After a Distracted Driving Crash
Since 1990, the car accident attorneys at The Bob Richardson Law Firm have been building a solid reputation of dedication to clients in Texas. With offices in Austin and Waco and a reach that extends to and beyond Round Rock, Georgetown, Killeen, Temple, Cedar Park, Lakeway, Taylor, and Belton, the firm is easily accessible and ready to handle your car crash or personal injury case.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation to learn how we can help you fight for the compensation and justice you deserve. Or go online to get an idea of who we are and to see videos featuring information for potential clients.