It’s often said that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
As if to illustrate this, along comes the RayGo, an invention designed to let you talk, text, and even go on Facebook in the car, without ever taking your hands of the wheel or your eyes off the road. Working as a sort of navigation device, the RayGo mounts to your steering wheel and hooks up to your phone though a free app (it’s only for Android right now, however). This app in turn equips your most popular apps with voice feedback, in a function called “Drive Mode.”
Initially designed to give vision-impaired users better access to their smartphones, the RayGo technology has been adapted to include various safety features as well. To that end, the RayGo uses your phone’s GPS sensors, along with an “accelerometer” to measure your speed and detect your direction. If you’re driving too fast, the voice function gets slower and more forceful. If you get a text message mid-turn, the RayGo will hold it until you finish.
For $55, it all sounds like a pretty great bargain for increased safety. Except that—regardless of whatever else you choose to do in your car—texting and driving is always a bad idea.
As impressive as the RayGo is, it’s not perfect. Although it takes the phone out of your hands, critics have pointed out that it still takes away some of the driver’s focus. In addition, if the RayGo malfunctions or goes on the fritz in some way, drivers may feel compelled to fix it, which could spell disaster if they’re on the road.
In general, if the device itself does prove to be a distraction, it might end up making driving much less safe. The plain truth is that anything you put on the steering wheel of your car, no matter how innocuous or helpful, has the potential to be a hazard, whether it limits your ability to hold onto the wheel itself, gets in the way of an airbag, or just proves too tempting to stare at.
If the device itself does prove to be a distraction, it might end up making driving much less safe.
But say the RayGo does work perfectly, and none of these issues end up being of great concern. The bigger issue is that for any motorist without a RayGo, texting and driving is still going to be a major safety concern.
According to DoSomething.org, the average amount of time a person looks away from the road while they’re texting is five seconds; this means that if they’re going 55 mph, they could go the length of an entire football field without looking up. Teenagers who text and drive spend 10 percent more time outside of their lane, while texting makes crashing a staggering 23 times more likely for everybody.
Along with Washington, D.C., there are currently 43 states that prohibit texting and driving, and Oklahoma is set to be next. Nevertheless, people continue to do text and drive, with 97 percent of teenagers admitting that they know it’s dangerous, but 43 percent of those teens admitting that they do it anyway. Meanwhile, 19 percent of drivers all ages admit to surfing the Web while they are on the road.
DoSomething.org reports that teens also tend to expect a reply to a text or an email within five minutes, making this a particularly dangerous issue for their demographic. However, teens are hardly the only ones who feel like they constantly have to stay plugged in: 40 percent of teens claim they have been in a car where the driver was using their phone, and 77 percent of teens swear that while adults tell them not to text and drive, they see the same adults doing it “all the time.”
Thus, it becomes clear that this is not merely a “teen issue.” It’s an everybody issue.
Our cultural hang-ups associated with texting and driving are the result of more profound shifts in the way we interact with technology. “It seems clear something powerful is at work, overriding people’s knowledge that what they’re doing behind the wheel is dangerous,” writes The Boston Globe’s Leon Neyfakh.
To figure out what that something might be, psychology and communications researchers around the world have started studying what exactly is happening in our heads when we reach for a phone in the car. What their research so far suggests is that texting and driving is unlike any public safety issue we’ve dealt with before. It’s not like the judgment error of drinking too much and deciding to drive home anyway. It’s not like neglecting to put on your seat belt. … The deadly phenomenon of texting and driving is just one manifestation of a broader affliction facing society: Our phones have effectively programmed us with new habits, including a powerful urge to pull them out when we’re not supposed to.
To stop texting and driving is to fight the very urges that we’ve been programmed to live our lives, in a world dominated by Apple and Google. Thus, curbing these behaviors will require more than laws or making texting and driving illegal. What we need instead is an entire new way of thinking.
Fortunately, there are other efforts besides those on the part of RayGo to curb the dangers inherent in texting and driving. Chemical engineer Scott Tibbitts and his company, Katsai have developed a system that uses a little black box to block calls and and texts to drivers outright. It’s sort of like a more extreme version of the RayGo system.
There have also been efforts like AT&T’s It Can Wait campaign, which has additionally garnered support from Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. AT&T even partnered with director Werner Herzog to produce a striking short film to promote their message—and created the much publicized #X campaign as a sign for texters to indicate they’re in the car.
Texting and driving may very well become safer as inventions like RayGo and similar technologies emerge, but the more effective, albeit more difficult approach to this problem is to reprogram some of our responses to technology. Although texting and driving may be common and somewhat socially acceptable, we have to do everything we can to make sure that it’s discouraged, and penalized.
Remember, even one life lost to the perils of technology is one life too many.
Chris Osterndorf is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared on websites such as Mic, Salon, xoJane, the Week, and more. When he’s not writing, Chris enjoys making movies with friends. He currently lives in Los Angeles.
Screengrab via RayGo/YouTube