I find North American society a little schizoid. Well, maybe a lot schizoid. On the one hand, we obsess so much about safety that even a cup of coffee comes with a warning label. But at the same time, we bring every possible personal gadget into our cars -- cellphones, iPods, you name it -- and magically believe that we won't get distracted and drive straight into the nearest cement truck. I mean, really.
Weirdly enough, this schizoid worldview provides an opportunity for car makers. By applying the right technology, they can let drivers bring electronic distractions into the car while minimizing the distracting part. Take an iPod, for instance. Playing with its clickwheel while attempting to steer your way through traffic is pretty dumb. But having a car that lets you control the iPod with voice commands -- now, that's pretty cool. And perhaps a wee bit safer.
Which brings me to a recent Automotive Designline article by QNX's Andy Gryc. He talks about how car makers can use LCD displays, touchscreens, voice recognition, audio feedback, and human factors engineering to help gadget-obsessed drivers stay focused on important stuff. Like avoiding that cement truck.
I especially liked the suggestion that digital instrument clusters could discreetly encourage drivers to drive safely. For instance, by displaying the current speed limit (acquired from the navigation database), a digital speedometer could help the driver notice excessive speeding and slow down to safer speeds:
Of course, you could argue this is just another unnecessary warning label, albeit a flashy technical one.
But hey, judge for yourself. Check out Andy's article, which is published in two parts, here and here.