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Technology and Driving - Does Technology Help or Hinder Driving?

As any motorist in Massachusetts knows, many people drive while using cell phones. In fact, at any moment, 11 percent of drivers are using a cell phone on Massachusetts' roads.

Yet, the merge of technology and driving goes far beyond texting while driving and other cell phone use. A recent Detroit Free Press story noted, "Wireless technology, Smartphone apps and computer operating systems for cars have opened a virtual faucet of infotainment and well-meaning features."

Gone are the days of a radio and speedometer being the only distractions on the dashboard. Now, GPS/navigation systems with back-up cameras, Smartphones with internet connections, and display screens with DVD players can all be installed in a car.

You can update your Facebook page, text a friend, catch the Red Sox's score, see how your stocks are doing, check movie times and find a restaurant. A 2009 Pew survey indicated that 26 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds had texted while driving, even with it being illegal in 34 states.

"When you're looking down at your texting device when you're behind the wheel of a car, your car goes the length of a football field in 4 seconds and you're not looking... that's dangerous" said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

More Apps, More Money

The problem will only get worse, as there is a lot of money to be made by selling hardware and software for cars, and the public's demand seems to be insatiable.

By 2015, the base of users is expected to grow to 26.6 million who will spend $438 million on their in-car apps.

A study by GigaOM Pro shows the market for apps on older vehicles could exceed $680 million globally by 2015.

Regulation?

While Secretary LaHood has made distracted driving a high profile issue, exactly what form regulation will take is uncertain.

Drivers clearly want the technology, but determining how to allow the technology in cars, yet still keep drivers safe, is a challenge. Furthermore, the technology is advancing so quickly that it is difficult for regulators to adapt.

Massachusetts Law

Currently, in Massachusetts, the law for cell phone use in motor vehicles includes:

  • Bus drivers may not use handheld and hands-free cell phones while driving (Primary law)
  • Novice drivers (drivers under 18 years old who have a learner's permit or a provisional license) may not use handheld and hands-free cell phones while driving (Primary law)
  • All drivers must refrain from texting while driving (Primary law)

A primary law is one where the police can stop you for that violation.

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