CarPlay and distracted driving

I was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, terrified. My friend just wouldn't stop using her tech as she drove. The entire trip not second went by when she wasn't paying more attention to it than to the road. I finally had to yell that, if she didn't stop, I'd get out and walk. And live. She acquiesced, but whenever I saw her drive up or away again her eyes were never fully on the road and it scared the life out of me. Somehow we both survived high school but the experience made me hate AM/FM radios, their knobby little tuners, and human compulsion to surf channels in few-minute "good song" bites. And that was long, long before the advent of phones or texting or CarPlay.

That's the context I bring with me when I hear about concerns that Apple's newly rebranded iOS in the Car interface will lead to an increase in distracted driving. It's the context I bring with me from a decade of commuting downtown and back every day for work, watching people eat, read newspapers across the steering wheel, apply makeup, swap tapes and CDs (ask your parents!), play Gameboys, get into fights, struggle to read nigh-impenetrable road signs, and yes, text, all while driving. I had an iPod, podcasts, and audio books with me. I'd get in, plug in, press play, and I'd be fine for the roughly 90 minutes it took me each way. But I'd be terrified of the people around me. Always.

I say all this not to diminish or disparage the idea that CarPlay could be distracting to drivers. I say all this to emphasize it, and to point out that it's by no means a new problem, and by no means one restricted to CarPlay. And that can be a problem.

Too often our thoughts and laws are shaped by headlines rather than by us using our heads. Banning texting while driving is fine, but leaving it legal to play video games while driving is not. Banning the use of cell phones in cars is fine but leaving it legal to read a novel while driving is not.

Attacking a problem is fine. Basing that attack on the popularity of specific platforms, features, or objects is not. Texting is a problem because it's distracting. Cell phones are a problem because they're distracting. The problem isn't the hot new technology, the problem is the distraction it causes. More specifically, the problem is that many of us, as human beings, decide our safety and the safety of others is less important than our not being bored for a few minutes or miles. We're the problem.

Piecemeal laws might offer some relief but if I'm ever hit by someone distracted by a radio, newspaper, or sandwich, or anyone I love is ever hit by someone distracted by anything other than texting, cell phones, or CarPlay, my rage and grief will be less not one iota.

There will be certain functions that we as a society agree are beneficial enough that they're worth implementing in cars even if certain people abuse them to the point of distraction. Music and audio has traditionally been one of those. GPS navigation has become one as well. Making calls and receiving messages as well, though the latter far more recently. In case of emergency that makes sense. For law enforcement, taxi drivers, and anyone else who works on the road, it does as well. For casual use, I'm not so sure. But let's lump it in there as well for the sake of argument.

If we accept these things — music, navigation, communication — as important enough that they should be in cars than making sure they cause as little distraction as possible and leave themselves open to as little abuse as possible is key.

It becomes a design an interface problem.

Right now in-car systems are controlled by a mishmash of capacitive and resistive touch screens, knobs and buttons, and natural language voice. Some require less effort, some work regardless of whether they encounter skin or glove, some are tactile and some are not, some require more visual attention and some do not.

Yet technology is advancing. Siri isn't perfect yet, but when it works it requires no more attention than a conversation. On the iPhone it can still be crippled by a poor network connection, which would be a major problem in a car. Getting Siri to work locally would mitigate a lot of that. Google is already doing on-board voice parsing. Their "always listening" approach also removes the need to press a button first.

Heads up displays, which paint information not on a display in the car but the windshield in front of you might reduce the need to take your visual attention off the road, but the control scheme will still require a lot of thought.

My point is we are now far ahead and not ahead at all when it comes to bringing tools to the car that are both extremely useful but also minimally distracting.

It's an extremely tough problem, and one for which hyperbole and headline hunting does a profound disservice. And for that reason I hope CarPlay gets a lot of scrutiny, feedback, and iteration. Apple has proven to be good at solving tough problems and music, navigation, and communications in cars is a serious and important one to solve.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • The fact that it's primarily voice driven is a huge plus. Would you rather have people touch typing on their iPhone 5S or attempting to shout at Siri. Guess it depends. I'm a strong believer that some people are great at multitasking and others, no matter how many safety features, are still TERRIBLE drivers. Only time will tell.
  • I've heard of studies that concluded that talking on the phone with a hands free device was equally distracting as texting. I've also read that even using the adjusting the radio was a problem. There point was that ALL distractions where a huge accident causer. That allowing hands free operation was a nothing more than giving states a false sense of security. Interesting. Nobody is removing radios from cars though.
  • Ask anyone who's ridden a motorcycle about distracted driving. Smartphones just make it worse, and while CarPlay would seem to reduce the effects of it, I still think the net effect is negative.
  • I have seen people ride a motorcycle and text. That is scary. ಠ益ಠ
  • How is that even possible? Not sure I want to know...
  • Left hand. And yes terrifying.
  • That's actually insane... What happened to self preservation?
  • Peter i also ride a Motorcycle and know exactly where you are going with this and you are right 100%.
  • Exactly the point I've made on YML and other places. There's no doubt these kinds of systems have the potential to distract drivers and with the increased use of them, even more drivers will be distracted. As a motorcyclist, we see distracted driving not only to a greater degree than others might but it affects us a lot more, too.
  • motorcycles are also simply hard to see on the road. And it's worse here in SoCal where they allow motocyclists to ride between cars. I really which they'd ban that. Partly because it hate it, but also then motorbikes end up in spots you don't expect a vehicle to be like two inches from your right mirror. That said i try to move over so they can go by at a stop light.
  • I truly believe that everything I have read about this in the last several days and now this article it is going to truly turn into a real topic to discuss for many reasons and one of which I wrote a guide about last week, Hands free driving and being distracted. I have read quite a bit about Carplay and what type of cars including not just new but older as well as what they want to install the system in and all I see is distraction.
    So I ask myself.... If Carplay is going to be so distractive, Why are all the other hands free systems built into all modern cars not considered distracting?
  • Who says they are not?
  • "Why are all the other hands free systems built into all modern cars not considered distracting?" They certainly are. This has been an ongoing discussion in many places. But because it's Apple, it's getting more attention from the general and tech press. The motorcycling forums I'm on have been talking about these issues for years.
  • The reason is because no one ever talks about them. The only time I ever hear about car infotainment systems is when Ford commercials mention MS Sync. No one is going to click a headline about Toyota infotainment distractions; no one gives a sh!t. But change that name to Apple and the entire internet clicks through.
  • They are. Maybe you've simply missed some of the reports pointing out just that fact.
  • The more voice-centric everything is, the better. In general, I am not a fan of having large displays in the car at all, especially when you have to interact with the touchscreen to do everything. It's one thing to take one hand off the wheel and turn a volume or tuner knob up and down, because you can do that easily by touch and muscle memory without taking your eyes off the road, but it's not that simple with touchscreens. I drive a different rental car every week (always a late model, so I've seen this evolve), and there's been a trend toward consolidating functions, including volume and temperature control, in the touch interface over the last few years, and it's really worrisome. It's especially bad when you have to navigate between different menus to control these things. Look away from the road to switch to the radio menu, look back at the road, look away from the road to change your station, look back at the road, look away from the road to turn the volume up, etc... Now if there's an always-listening function like you see on the Moto X, and you can just say "Siri, turn on ESPN Radio. Siri, set volume to 60%" at any point, it would be a very different story.
  • My 2011 Saab 9-4x allows me to say... Radio select 94.1 FM... it and it switches to that. Or Navigate to XXXX, and it pulls the address up on the phone. But I agree with stuff moving to the touch screen. I can use the physical knob and menu buttons to scroll through a song/folder list and select/play. I can use the physical controls for the radio tuning and volume... OR I can use the touch screen. My Mom's 2013 Buick Verano can use the knob to scroll/highlight but you need to tap the touch screen to actually select it. And you can't speak to it like mine, or as least I haven't figured out how yet. Switching between Pandora, CD, XM, AM, FM, Nav on her radio is a MESS!! way more complicated than mine. So much so that she puts on her one and only radio station and leaves it there. Distracted driving IS an issue. It dates back to when I got my license, and analog tuner knobs, cassettes, and such, later CD's... you had to "look" to tune station in. You had to READ the label on the cassette or CD. If there are not "Distracted Driving Laws" on the books, there should be, and cell phones, texting and such should be covered by them, rather than creating new laws.
  • It's also distracting to talk to your passengers while you're driving. Shall we make it illegal to speak to anyone while driving? What are the limits here? Sent from the iMore App
  • Exactly! I was thinking the same thing. We should just rip all speakers, radios, and isolate the driver in front with sound proof bubble foam and force them to wear head-lock braces so they can only turn their heads 45 degrees right and left! Tie their hands to the steering wheel and insert a pee bucket! Better, make all cars stripped down 1 person vehicles, in a faraday cadge, that can haul a passenger trailer behind! YEAH! The day any of these laws are actually, fully enforceable, will be the day we rip away freewill. Education and design, not legislation, is much better. This expectation of making things illegal will make things better is just silly. Even the notion that technology can fix all is far fetched. People screw up.. until we rip away the human completely, which I hope never happens, we have to realize we will have mistakes, distractions, etc. Just seems like a witch hunt to me.
  • What you said made a lot more sense than a lot of comments here, kudos.
  • The limits for the law are always going to be just behind the limits of drivers making excuses for their distracted behavior not being "technically" against the law. It would be a lot easier if the law could simply be "drive safely for the conditions". Different drivers have different abilities in different conditions. The same behavior (talking to your passenger) can be a benefit on the clear, open road by keeping you attentive and it can be a distraction in heavy traffic in the rain.
  • Here’s a CarPlay idea. When the vehicle is in motion, turn off the display except for GPS. Everything can be done through Siri, right?
  • That's what happens when new technologies are put in vehicles people become addictive to them it is like a drug!!! Sent from the iMore App
  • I think the tech media needs to stop with the "distracted driving" hyperbole. I would expect it to come from Business Insider (good click bait) but not more respectable sites. I don't remember all this in depth conversation on the subject before Apple announced CarPlay, even though these infotainment systems already existed.
  • very selective reading on your part. Microsoft and (especially) Tesla has always had these issues (as will Google).
  • I already hate my nanny-Honda GPS/media interface. Please no more nanny-features. I think CarPlay is a step in the right direction though. It has a simple voice-driven interface that allows minimal distraction. I agree with others that education and responsibility is the key here.
  • I cannot find the article that addressed this way before car play. It stated if we listen to the radio, or even an ebook(listen) the chances of an accident do not really increase. If you do email, and other things, even if hands free only. Your attention is taken away from driving enough to cause a 40% rise in having an accident. This was before car play, and similar technology. I am sure it will be even higher if you are not using hands free, and touching the screen. I wish that I saved the article. Very informative. It may come to a point that you will not be able to do some things if the car is in motion. I am sure lawyers are already looking at this, and all it will take is a terrible accident, the the driver say they were not looking due to doing office work while on the way to the office. Technology is a great thing if you do not let it control you.
  • It's funny how Apple enters an area, the magnify glass soon follows. Ever since I could mount a smartphone on the dash, it's been there. A Garmin GPS V before that (first cool gps imo). Carplay seems cool but it also seems very limited in that I probably still want my smartphone mounted Siri integration instead of that Honda Link i'll take all day. This is a slow space though as only newer cars get the tech and very few customize older cars. As for distractions, there's always going to be those arguing against it. Everything is a distraction..
  • I'm pretty much against any of these systems. IMO anything other than hands free bluetooth is too much. If the car is in motion all of these systems should be completely locked out from user interaction. The GPS built into my 2006 Mazda does that.
  • GPS is worse because you have to keep looking at it to see if the right direction is followed. Face it as long as we are distracted driving is not safe. Since some cannot handle it so it should be banned..../s
  • I agree with Peter's point if all the discussion about CarPlay is going to help with better iteration then all the better. But if all this discussion is just Apple 'click bait' then it's just all bullshit. And really I think it's the latter with most of these tech sites iMore excluded. Like most of you said this is old news. Those damn infotainment consoles have not only been around but they are too distracting if you are touching to key stuff in as you drive. In our car there is all the necessary stuff I need right there on the steering wheel. Phone, volume, favorite XM stations. The problem I would like for Apple to solve is Siri to work well that it understands voice requests and follows them through for everything. The phone thing has been done already. Get GPS right with accurate directions coming through the speakers and I'm happy. Ultimately, something will distract us. We are human. Like someone said except you straight jacket the damn driver we will be distracted by the noisy kids, a nice skirt in the parking lot, a car on the shoulder on the interstate. All I hope is Apple helps make our tendency to reach for that console less. Hopefully until the 'perfect system' comes common sense with most of us will prevail. Sent from the iMore App
  • 2 word- Siri Sent from the iMore App
  • No matter what the problem starts with the person behind the wheel. Just like drinking and driving the solution to the problem could be as simple and obvious as ever (take a taxi, transit system, designated driver). However the person has to implement the solution. When I get into my car my iPhone remains in my pocket. My simple thought is years ago before there were cellphones I wouldn't be reachable while driving. So why should anything change the call can either wait till I'm reachable or able to return it. As for the other things like fiddling with the radio etc. I either don't do it (read the paper, shave) or I do it without looking (muscle memory). I'm just one person though and the majority of other drivers out there may not think this way. Perhaps along with laws new drivers should be shown videos and pictures of the death and carnage distracted driving can cause. Sent from the iMore App
  • People certainly feel untouchable in their autos, and are very oblivious to their actions. We all see it daily.
    I think the tech options are great and getting better. I'm excited.
    The thing is, I know people who have a hard time driving safely while carrying on a conversation and the just don't realize nor care because they feel invincible in their auto.
    It's not a technology issue, it's a people issue.
    :P Sent from the iMore App
  • Any chance we see local usage for Siri integrated in iOS 8? An always listening feature could certainly help! Sent from the iMore App
  • Only one solution to car distraction: Don't allow humans to drive cars. We are simple creatures, predisposed to stare at shiny, moving things. We won't ever stop fiddling, so let people fiddle and let Siri drive.
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  • After riding in my friends Model S, I am shocked that dash system is street legal . A 17" screen makes for some easy touch targets, and he says you habituate to it quickly, but it still seems very distracting. And the full WebKit-based browser is just asking for an accident... Sent from the iMore App