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A Modest Proposal: A Useful App That Would Save Lives.

In the wake of the National Traffic Safety Board’s proposal that each state pass a law to outright ban the use of electronic devices while driving and the revelation that Carrier IQ has been acquiring deeply personal data through its smartphone programming, it is hard not to feel jaded about technology right now.  The National Traffic Safety Board had absolutely the right idea in its proposal.  Unfortunately, if left up to the states or the federal government, it might take some time for government to act.  As penance for the Carrier IQ scandal, the smartphone industry should be compelled to make technology do what law enforcement has not.

It is time for all smartphones, cell phones and hands free devices to be rendered inoperable while in a moving vehicle.  Seriously.  If the government wants to get involved, have them make a single mandate: “by 2015 each and every cell phone, smart phone, Internet connected tablet computer, [keep inserting the names of probable technologies to develop that might distract people while driving] must be equipped with a function that inhibits their operation while in a moving vehicle.”  It is truly that simple.

That is the law that should be made and instead of trying to weasel out of it, the smartphone companies should comply.  The smartphone and mobile phone industry is a multibillion dollar industry and if their research and development cannot create some form of motion sensor that cannot be circumnavigated, they ought not to be in business.

Part of the technology already exists to use motion to change functions on smartphones.  The Aliph Jawbone Era Bluetooth adjusts volume and other functions through shaking your head.   GPS systems can track you as you move.  Between the two technologies, it seems like it would be pretty easy to program smartphones to disconnect when they sense motion.

What about emergency situations?  What if you are speeding along in your car and your life is in real jeopardy?  Of course there should be an exception.  But, if the Carrier IQ incident taught the public anything, it is that some programming can be embedded at the most basic functioning level of the smartphone.  Whatever switch would allow you to call out while in a moving vehicle should automatically dial 911.  911 is who you should be calling when your life is threatened, so programming such a direct exception is the only exception that makes any real sense.

When John F. Kennedy Jr. declared that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, there was no NASA.  The entire space race was built, tested and succeeded, within the goal time period.  If the United States wants to illustrate that it is serious about saving lives by minimizing smartphone-related driving accidents, this is the course the smartphone industry must take.  If the government does not compel them to, they should do it anyway . . . just because they can.


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