A few years ago, I read about a town plagued by a growing beaver population. People were worried, quite justifiably, about the damage the rodents might inflict on the local landscape. After all, beavers can quickly denude an area of trees and cause considerable flooding. But here's the part that stopped me in my tracks: A local politician cum self-appointed safety officer expressed the concern that townspeople would fall on the pointy tree stumps and grievously hurt themselves.
I kid you not.
Clearly, it didn't matter to this person that, in all of history, there probably isn't a single case of someone fatally impaling himself on a beaver stump. And it didn't matter that the probability of actually falling on a beaver stump is about the same as having a meteoroid bonk you on the head. I mean, why worry about such details when beaver stumps are so patently evil?
The fact is, a disconnect often exists between perceived danger and real danger. For instance, many people worry that the increased use of microelectronics, mobile devices, and software in cars will drive up driver distraction. And, of course, they have a point, provided these technologies are deployed incorrectly or used irresponsibly. Problem is, people fail to realize that, properly implemented, these technologies can help reduce distraction and make us safer drivers. Imagine that.
Fortunately, my colleague Scott Pennock is doing more than just imagining. He has just been appointed chair of a spanking new ITU-T focus group on driver distraction, established last month in Geneva.
The group has a clear objective: to reduce injuries and fatalities by minimizing the cognitive demands associated with both driving and non-driving tasks. To achieve that goal, the group will work collaboratively with standards organizations, governments, academia, and industry.
The group's activities will run the gamut: from proposing reliability and transmission performance requirements for automotive services, to investigating information flow in the automotive cockpit, to identifying new techniques that can reduce the driver’s cognitive load.
I plan to keep a close watch on the group's progress and keep you posted on its progress. Stay tuned.