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February 11, 2018

From the Editor’s Desk: Nothing on your phone is worth looking at while you drive

by John_A

Smartphone addiction is a real thing. And it has serious consequences when it’s combined with driving.

In the last couple weeks, both my girlfriend and I have come within inches of being hit by cars while walking, in crosswalks, in downtown Seattle. Unfortunately this isn’t the only time that’s happened to us, nor is it exclusive to us or this city. Every single day in every city I visit, I see drivers blow through lights, stop in crosswalks and generally disrespect pedestrians. What’s obviously changed in the last few years is the root cause: people aren’t necessarily more rude or worse drivers, they’re just trying to use their phones while driving. Each and every time I see a car get close to hitting a pedestrian, I can look in the window and see that their hand is on a phone.

In the case of my girlfriend’s near-miss, the offending driver was on a video call on her phone while she was driving through the city — so she drove right through a red light without even recognizing she had done so. A video call. While she was driving. If that’s not a perfect example for how bad this problem has become, I don’t know what is.

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The NHTSA’s numbers from 2015 show over 390,000 people injured and 3,400 killed specifically by distracted driving in that year. Not all of them are phone-related. And not all of them could have necessarily been prevented — but so many could have if people chose to put down their phone and pay attention to the world around their car. And no matter how many could have actually been prevented by putting down the phone, we know that nothing on that phone at the time was more important than the injury or death caused by it.

Your incoming message, or email, or Instagram notification, or video call is never important enough to take your eyes and mind off of the task at hand: driving.

Nothing on your phone is important enough to take your eyes and mind off of driving.

Self-driving cars and general driver assistance systems are on a massive upswing right now. They’re extremely exciting and it’s clear that even the simplest of technology like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning and surround cameras are making driving safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. But for now, people are still responsible for driving the cars. “Smartphone addiction” certainly has an effect on our lives in many ways. But driving while you’re using your phone is one time where your addiction to looking at this little piece of technology could kill someone.

Best universal car mounts for your phone

I don’t drive all that often; about half of the U.S. national average per year. Thankfully I have a situation in which neither myself nor my girlfriend drive to work. I also have a car that I love and really enjoy driving — it doesn’t feel like a burden to get in and go where I need to. But when I drive, I’ve made a serious effort to dramatically reduce phone interaction. Android Auto on my phone has been a massive help. (Sadly my car’s infotainment system doesn’t have Android Auto available.) A new phone mount that keeps my maps and music a quick glance away is another. Buying a new car with Bluetooth, built-in microphones and address book/dialing support obviously made hands-free calls easy.

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But the biggest change has just been deciding that looking at my phone while driving isn’t worth it. Many of us have been in near-miss car accident situations. I’ve been in so many, all as a pedestrian, that I just couldn’t continue to drive and interact with my phone. Getting in a fender bender because you checked your phone while going 10 mph on a city street is an annoyance and maybe a cause for your insurance to go up. Hitting a pedestrian while going 10 mph could seriously injure them. If that person was pushing a stroller, you may have just killed a child.

I make sure I have my podcast or music set up on my phone before I pull out of my garage. When Android Auto notifies me of a message, I wait until an opportune time to even deal with it via voice controls. When I’m driving, I’m driving. If I didn’t want to drive, I could take the bus or train and devote 99% of my attention to my phone. I could also wait until the end of my trip to pull out my phone and check notifications. I have put a huge emphasis on this lately. I just wish millions of other people would, too.

And with that, a few more thoughts on the week that was:

  • Both Daniel Bader and I spent a couple days down in sunny San Diego meeting with Qualcomm. Lots of interesting stuff happening down there — with the brands and products we know, like processors, but also many other things you don’t normally associate with the company.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been back on my Galaxy S8 for a few weeks now. Expect to see a 10-month follow-up review this week as we get ready for the GS9.
  • The GS8 has generally held up and I’ve enjoyed using it. But the software still bugs me sometimes, that fingerprint sensor placement is horrible, the battery life has been mediocre and the camera was clearly leapfrogged by the Pixel 2.
  • I leave for Barcelona to cover MWC 2018 in 10 days. Amazing how quickly it snuck up on us after CES.
  • This is going to be Samsung’s show, for sure, but she shows are always great opportunities to see some other companies we don’t normally have an opportunity to spend one-on-one time with.
  • Also, it’s a time to eat the wonderful food in Barcelona. I’ve been craving paella for weeks.

Have a great week, and drive safe.

-Andrew

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