Cars and apps

New cars are expanding into the territory of features that are commonly available on our smartphones, and more: music streaming, radio programs on demand, Yelp, browsing, geo-fencing, lock/unlock, arm, remote car starters, trunk release, panic, locate car, parking meters, anti-collision. And here come the social apps: Facebook and Twitter.

How much tweeting and facebooking do we really need to do in the car? The dangers of texting while driving have already been researched, and it turns out that it's comparable to the risk of driving drunk. Nowadays humans are so addicted to new information that it is hard to image that we'll be able to convince everyone to just stop using their phones for safety's sake. 

There are a few options: expensive penalties, automated phone shutdown, user experiences that minimize driving distractions. In Washington, the ticket for driving while talking/texting on the phone is $124 - the same as driving in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane even though the risk of killing someone is much higher when you are on the phone vs. when you are in HOV lane. Based on observations during my daily commute, $124 is not working. I have to admit that I sometimes use my phone for a quick chat as well. If the ticket were $1000, I would think much harder before picking up my phone. I also sometimes check Facebook when I am at the stoplight or in a stop-and-go traffic situation.

Ideally we all just should stop using our phones. At some point I hope there will be a regulation that would force phones to disable all features except emergency calls when it detects that you're the driver.

But let's assume people are not going to give up using apps and smartphones in the car. How can we make designs that are more car appropriate? Some would say that it would encourage us to use our phones even more! True, but I am making an assumption that people would use their phones anyways, so making it easier could make things a bit safer. A tiny bit...

Here are a few thoughts:
1. Quick switch to enable voice commands. Quick is the key. If the switch involves too many steps people will not do it since it's too much work. Fewer steps also would allow users to make the switch more safely while driving.
2. Disable text input. Mercedes already does it for its cars' built-in interface: texting functions are disabled when the car is moving.
3. Disable visual notifications. When there is a visual cue, it is much more tempting to look.
4. Disable password lock when the car is moving. When a device is locked it doesn't respond to any voice commands and you cannot easily switch to car mode. Users pick up the phone and type their password while driving... which is what we are trying to avoid.
5. When navigational apps are on, keep the device screen on so that the user doesn't need to "wake up" the device to view the map.
6. Move apps that are used in the car (e.g. music, email, maps) to the top of the list (or filter the rest of the aps) so that the user doesn't need to scroll the screen.
7. Frequent operations use physical buttons that the users can feel and click with their hand without looking at the screen.

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