Every now and then I’ll hear about a bit of tech news that’s so stupid and so out to lunch I’m simply stunned. And that’s the case with the announcement that AT&T and General Motors are teaming up to add 4G LTE capability to new cars, trucks and SUVs.
Distracted driving is a terrible problem. In 2008, the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, found that nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured. Sure, some of those bozos who caused the accidents were reading the newspaper or shaving or making out, but most were probably talking or texting on their phones.
I have not seen more recent numbers, but given the push by the NTSB to crack down on all sorts of distractions, including hands-free calling, I can’t imagine that those grisly numbers have improved. As I wrote when the NTSB made its recommendations, there’s ample evidence that using digital devices while driving taxes the attention span of almost everyone. Most recently, a study by researchers at the UAE University added evidence that hands-free calling is not safe.
What GM and America’s Favorite Phone Company are proposing would compound the problem of distracted driving by adding many new things a driver could do instead of focusing on, you know, driving safely. Consider this comment by an AT&T exec: “The car is going to be a smartphone with four wheels. The opportunities are endless when you think about adding an LTE pipe to a car,” Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s president of emerging enterprises told the New York Times.
There’s another issue as well, and this explains AT&T’s eagerness to jump into the driver’s seat. With landline revenue fading fast, and the smartphone market getting saturated, AT&T needs to find new sources of revenue — and convincing you to gobble up data while you’re tooling down the highway is a great way to do that.
Suppose one of the apps you opt for is streaming video for the backseat. How long do you think it will take you to blow through your data cap on a long car ride? Not long. Maybe your kids will play online games or download music. Even less bandwidth intensive applications, like Web surfing, chew up data in a big hurry when you’re connected via a fast 4G LTE connection.
Finally, there’s a quality of life issue here. Danger and expense aside, do we really need to be connected every minute of our day? Sometimes the drive to or from work can actually be relaxing, a time to think, look at the scenery or hear a bit of music. Why make the driver’s seat just another desk chair and your car another digital gadget?
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.