Ban Texting? Just Require Smarter Cars and Trucks

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Better speech technology could make texting while driving more than dangerous, it would become obsolete. No longer would it be necessary for a driver to read teensy words from a tiny screen or type using an equally downsized keyboard--these could be replaced by simply talking and listening.

A good vehicle telematics system could easily include this feature, allowing the user to dictate SMS messages as speech-to-text and hear responses read as text-to-speech. This could be especially important as an adjunct to computerized dispatching systems, which often require a driver to look at a mobile terminal screen, if not a cellular handset.

Add a tight linkage to GPS and as soon as a new location was received, the driver would hear a message and the location would automatically be entered into a turn-by-turn GPS device. This feature would be valuable for more than commercial vehicles, of course.

Even the driver's response, today often sent using buttons on a touch screen, could become a simple "yes" or "no" converted from speech to an on-screen command.

Though not perfect, advances in speech technology make me think we could outlaw not just texting while driving, but also dialing or even looking at a cellular handset while in motion.

Future automobiles could be required to have built-in Bluetooth support, microphones, and speakers, allowing cellular use to be easier and safer than it is today.

Nothing, however, will totally solve the problem of distracted drivers. Removing texting from the equation will, however, reduce a major source of danger. Using voice technology for all directory look-ups and dialing would seem to improve the safety of voice calls.

But, none of measures these work as well--in terms of safety--as simply not using a cellular handset for any purpose while in motion.

Even if they know about the danger, such knowledge being hard to avoid, people find the convenience of being able to place and receive calls while driving irresistible.

Perhaps, the GPS in my new iPhone is a partial answer: When the phone seems to be moving above a certain speed, it would route all calls directly to voice mail. And, yes, there would need to be a way to tell the phone that you are a passenger and "safe" to accept the call.

There are things we can do to reduce the danger, but short of outlawing any cellular usage while driving, significant risk is likely to remain. And if we don't do everything we can to reduce that risk, our days of using the phone while driving may be numbered.

Looking at the accident risk for texting or voice calls while driving, it's hard to conclude they are really worth the danger, though better technology could reduce it.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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