Hands-Free Necessary?

Hands-free an option for older phone and older car?

At 60 MPH it takes a car 369 feet to stop. This is longer than a football field. The graph shows stopping distances at lower speeds too.
The End Zone for Smartphones… Perception, Reaction and Stopping.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw signs on the highway (in Mass) saying phones must now be hands-free. Is this really necessary or is this just another dumb law? I have an older phone and an older car and I don’t see the need for this myself. Omar, Georgetown

Dear Omar: Think about it this way: if you have surgery you hope that the doctors are not talking on cellular phones or reading the newspaper when they operate. They will be paying full attention to what they are doing. The National Safety Council reminds us that driving requires all of your attention and uses all of your senses. In both cases, there is a life at stake, your own. 

That said, so many drivers use smartphones while they drive. The AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index for 2018 found that about 52 percent of motorists had recently talked on a handheld cellphone, 41 percent had read a message and 32 percent had typed or sent a message. 

The Three Sins of Sims:

There are three ways that the smartphone can distract you in the car. The first is obvious: Manual distraction occurs when you need to reach for the phone, fumble with it, or press in numbers. Many states, like yours, have bans. Then there is visual distraction, like taking your eyes off the road so that you can read a text or type in a number. It goes hand-in-hand (pun intended) with manual distraction. Finally, there is cognitive distraction, which most drivers seem to attribute to the other drivers on the road, not to themselves.

Distraction 101

According to the NHTSA, phone conversations of any type increase reaction time and increase variations in speed, lane deviations, and steering wheel control.

When conversing on a mobile device, either hand held or hands free, drivers increase their risk of a crash two to four times. 

Drivers talking on hands-free cell phones miss visual cues critical to safety and navigation. Their divided attention leads them to miss exists, go through red lights and stop signs and ignore important navigational signage.

And a twist of the Wrist…

To be compliant with the new law, you will probably need to mount the phone on or near the dashboard, assuming there is no audio-connection.  Since you said you had an older phone and an older car, I’d be concerned that the phone may go-to-sleep while you drive and you might then need to wake it by typing in a password code. That would definitely take your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, and ultimately your attention too. It violates the intention of this new law. 


Fake News and Smartphones

A prankster creates Fake Road Traffic with a set of Smartphones…

A quirky picture of a red kids wagon that is as big as a car and has a motor.
A Street Ready Wagon found on Ebay built by John Davis of Cornelius, OR.

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I saw on social media that you can use your phone to create a fake news traffic jam? I live in a neighborhood that gets a lot of traffic and I could use my phone to divert it. What do you think? Hani, Cambridge.

Dear Hani,

Let me start my saying that I don’t know how to reverse engineer it, but your phone is always used to monitor traffic. Most people don’t know this, but services like StreetLight data collect location data from your phone. Then they aggregate it and sell it to cities and towns that need to report traffic patterns. 

You can take steps to minimize what your phone sends by turning off GPS and Bluetooth. Most importantly, look through your apps and turn off permissions for location-data. You will be surprised how many apps are sending location data: apps  for cooking, meditation, shopping, etc.

Maps Need Data- You Need Maps

That said, you must allow location data when you use your phone for navigation, say when you open Google Maps or Waze. 

The incident you are referring to on social media was one I did not want to draw attention to for fear that it would spread through more channels. But, since you asked here is a brief summary. I will not add more fuel by gracing it with a picture!

Little Red Wagons

A performance and installation artist in Germany took a red wagon (think Radio Flyer) and filled it with 99 smart phones. Each one had the GPS activated so when he pulled the wagon on a side street  the color coded traffic map ‘summed’ 99 pings and registered “red” for traffic congestion. 

Google quickly issued a response (Yes!). It begins, “whether via car or cart or camel, we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time.”  They add that they will be improving the algorithm to detect wagons versus cars.

Circle the Wagons too..

There are a few ways to look at this fake news story. First, kudos to Google for being polite and responsive to the wagonneer. Next, get on the wagon with your GPS turned off…or perhaps, GPS turned on, mindfully.


*9to5Google is not an official Google newsletter. It is a blog written about Google and other technology. This can be confusing (almost fake news!)

Phones & RideHail?

Is it rude to the driver if I make a phone call during an Uber trip? What’s the etiquette here?

This is a passenger in a vehicle holding a smartphone. She looks angry.
image source: Boogich/Getty. Mashable (2018)

Dear Ms. Smartphone: When I take a ride hail trip in an Uber or Lyft do I have to make small talk to the driver? And, do you think it’s OK to pull out my phone and make a call to someone? I was in a vehicle last night with a friend, and they said it was rude to then call to a friend we had in common. Mike, Mill Valley.

Dear Mike: In the early days of Uber and it was almost required that you sat up front and exchanged conversation with the driver. Ride hailing trips were unlike a taxi with the plexiglass divide, and more like riding in someone’s personal vehicle. Here in 2020 we are still riding in someone’s personal vehicle, but the business model has become far more, well, business like.

Still, we all better off if we try to approach the driver with a conversational ice-breaker. A really nice piece by Anthony Ponce, a journalist turned driver, observes that when it comes to getting around town we’re living in a Goldilocks Zone. Taxis are on the decline and driverless cars are still at least a few years away. He says that leaves us in a unique window in history where we travel with others in the most natural places for conversation: personal cars.

OUtside YOur Phone..people

Talking on your phone in the ride hail vehicles reminds me of irritating customers who talk in a grocery store as a poor clerk, probably part time and underpaid, rings up the order and packs the bags. The caller on the phone is oblivious to the person in front of them who is providing a service.

On a different note, there is some evidence that a passenger talking on a phone will distract a driver, as the driver cannot avoid cognitively ‘tuning in’ to the conversation. I won’t go there and say that you should never talk on your phone during the trip, but consider texting instead. 

Share the journey…silently

There is one instance that riders overlook, and an opportunity to stay in touch with a third party outside the vehicle. Use the ‘safety toolkit’ in the Uber (or Lyft) app to send a bread-crumb trail of your journey, so your trusted contact will know exactly where you are en-route and when you will arrive.