Dear Ms. Smartphone: Your column takes a hard stance on using smartphones in cars- they distract the driver, make them take their eyes off the road, slow down reaction times, etc. Yet, I see lots of drivers using their phones all the time. Are there circumstances when you would recommend using a smartphone in the car? Harrison, Boston
Dear Harrison: So, a big yes, and thanks for the observation. The first portable phones were called ‘car phones’ but they were suitcase sized and drivers had to pull off the road to call from them.
Today, car phones are bite-sized and an engineering advance called telematics links the car and driver.
Three or four phone features on the smartphone, namely the accelerometer, the gyroscope, GPS, and compass, collect data and compile travel information.
Collectively, these are called telematics. They require giving up your location data and some privacy, but mobile tracking can make you or your teen a safer driver. Smartphones equipped with the software measure the ‘quality’ of driving.
Telematics can be a tool for parents to monitor teen driving and help teach them driver safety. They record the speed of travel, acceleration, hard braking, cornering, and the ultimate, smartphone use and distraction! There are different companies working on the software, such as Zendrive, and it is used commercially in trucking. One firm offers a telematic ‘game’ called DriveWell. Teens compete for the title of the safest driver in an annual competition sponsored by Cambridge Mobile Telematics. The app is useful for new drivers, as it helps them track if they brake too hard, corner too sharply, or exceed the speed limit.
Way to Go?
No matter whether it’s a game or everyday driving, there are savings and safety using telematics. For insurance companies, it provides a more micro-based, personalized way to set premiums. And, on the transportation horizon, counting miles traveled and time of day might edge out current funding schemes based on the gas tax and vehicle fees.