MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Dashboard Driving: On Social Media & Danger | March 8, 2011

Though their user-friendly features and worldwide connectivity promise networking benefits and even revolution, social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook might be more dangerous than once thought. Most have heard of the English study that linked social networking to moderate and severe cases of depression; others, perhaps more inclined toward conspiracy theory, have pointed out the questionable security and third-party information-sharing on popular social sites. Last year, meanwhile, networking sites played unfortunate host to private videos posted by cyber-bullies as a means of “outing” their homosexual friends — a trend that lead to several high-profile teenage suicides across the country. So it’s understandable that the arrival of the Rinspeed BamBoo, touted as the first English automobile with wireless internet access, might inspire equal amounts of head-shaking as head-turning.

Pictured to the left, the BamBoo is being touted as “the world’s first Internet car,” as it reads emails as well as Facebook and Twitter updates to the driver while in transit. As explained by the USA Today, this feature is widely-available across the American auto market: last fall, for example, General Motors updated its OnStar service to include “responsible connectivity,” or technology to facilitate internet interaction without overdoing the driver distraction. Such built-in systems certainly have benefits — Mercedes drivers can lock and unlock their vehicles via Blackberry, and Mazda drivers can access roadside assistance from their smart phones. But when does Facebook use on the freeway become less of a convenience for web-savvy drivers and more of a safety hazard for those in traffic around them?

While that question is difficult to answer, it’s easy to quantify the rampant spread of phone use while driving. According to several studies, about half of American teens text while driving, and one fifth of thirty-somethings surf the web while on the road. These activities make drivers 23 times more likely to be involved in a car accident, which equates texting while driving to drunk driving in terms of pure probabilities. As a result, certain states — Indiana among them — are training police specifically for detection of phone use while behind the wheel, as well as punishing in-vehicle internet use just as harshly as text messaging. Even the FCC has launched a highly-publicized campaign against texting while driving, accompanied by an executive order from President Obama himself aimed at reducing distracted driving.

But the original question still remains: do dashboard-enabled Facebook use and text messaging, both of which are available in the latest industry models, increase or decrease vehicular safety? Auto companies, who undeniably understand the commercial viability of wireless accessibility while driving, return to the debate over cell phone usage versus Bluetooth in the car: the same way that hands-free talk sets were deemed legal by the government where traditional cellular calls were not, hands-free Facebooking should be a right of the people. But given that social media are largely luxury services — meaning that updating a Twitter feed or checking a Facebook status are rarely, if ever, time-sensitive needs — perhaps their incorporation into an automobile encourages distraction where it would never before have existed. As of now, no data proves either side of the debate ultimately correct — but neither are automakers shying away from direct promotion of the service in their cars. See below for a particularly sentimental (yet arguably controversial) ad.



1 Comment »

  1. Getting your eyes of the road, whatever you will do will probably increase the risk of getting involved with a traffic accident.

    Comment by Brad Fallon — March 8, 2011 @ 4:51 am

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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