Communication technology that is designed to make out lives easier, cooler and more entertaining has a frustrating way of endangering drivers. Most everyone recognizes that texting and driving is incredibly irresponsible, and many try to stay off the phone, especially the handheld variety. But Siri, the beguiling digital assistant in the iPhone 4s, is an interesting new case.
The great thing about Siri is that you can ask her questions with hands at ten and two, but in order to get a response, you have to switch your attention from the road to her text answer displayed on the phone; you must take your eyes off the road to focus them on a 4 inch by 3 inch screen. It’s here that Siri isn’t much safer, if at all, than is texting a friend or fighting a crazed jungle cat while driving.
The most obvious use of Siri’s helpful features when you’re on the road is her navigation capabilities. Here’s where things get dicey: if you’re asking her for help with directions, and she pulls up a map, is it much different than the GPS devices considered safe by many?
It’s a gray area, both in terms of functionality and legality. Distracted driving legislation varies wildly state by state, though most have laws against people under 18 using phones at all while behind the wheel. States like California are just now passing laws that fine drivers for texting while driving instead of simply enforcing anti-cell phone laws as secondary offenses. Sadly, it’s unlikely that any state’s laws will be passed before the next, more advanced phone comes out and requires further legislation to account for it.
But even with the law’s somewhat futile chase to catch up with rapidly developing technology, a simple, common sense law will still hold true: when in control of a 1,200 pound hunk of metal traveling at speed, full attention should be paid to the road.
Ideally, advances in automated, collision-preventing safety features along with devices with which drivers can interact without using eyes or hands will make technology a safety-enhancing force on the roads. There will be cell phones that partially shut down when connected to a vehicle, or vehicles will have such advanced collision detection systems that a level of distraction provided by communication devices will have less devastating and tragic results. But those days are a ways off.
For now, as awesome and hilarious as Siri may be, when it comes to road safety, her advancements in interactivity do not do much more than provide a new way to be distracted while driving. Do yourself and the people around you a favor, and wait until you are safely pulled over to ask Siri incredibly pressing questions, like where the nearest and best place is to get a burrito.
Beckley Mason writes a street safety blog for GJEL Accident Attorneys.