It's not that tech vendors seek to create problems; it's just that many of us are simply not ready to deal with potential side effects of cool new technologies. And that "we" includes insurance companies.
Recently, TheNextWeb.com wrote that Spotify has announced a new deal with Volvo, which will launch a voice-activated music streaming service fully integrated with the car manufacturer's new touch-enabled dashboard. According to the story, Volvo's new Sense Connected Touch solution will allow drivers to stream music from Spotify's servers using either a 3G/4G dongle or a mobile phone connection tethered to the dashboard.
Ideally, this will mean that users could simply call out the name of the track and have Spotify play it automatically. Standard controls such as "play," "stop," and "shuffle" are also presumably supported. For those people who still like to control their music using their fingers, says TNW, Volvo's Sense Connected Touch dashboard also offers a 7-inch display with an infrared, beam-scanned touch screen.
This means that, for the first time in any car, the driver can search and select music even when wearing gloves. Passing by our excitement at that development for the moment, let's examine this from an insurance point of view.
Assuming the best case scenario, drivers eagerly call out the name of their favorite tunes, expecting them to be instantly played as if they had just rubbed a magic lamp.
Of course, experience has taught us that voice-activated systems, while they are vastly improved over what was available a decade ago, do have their glitches?and a mistake is inevitable (Did he want "You Really Got Me" or "You Really Got a Hold on Me"?). So our driver, slightly annoyed, raises his voice and tries again.
Being annoyed and yelling at one's dashboard are probably not optimum conditions for safe driving. The interchange with the on-board technology could be just distracting enough to cause our driver to miss a stop sign or even a red light. This is where it becomes the insurance company's problem.
While it may seem ridiculous to blame an accident on a faulty piece of non-essential technology, stranger things have happened. But let's suppose our driver gives up on the voice route and decides to use his or her fingers to do the walking through the potential song list. While touching choices on the LCD screen may be easy, it may be somewhat harder to make selections while keeping an eye on the road ahead. Add to that the possibility of some frustration if one's finger happens to touch the wrong icon and again we have a recipe for distracted driving that can lead to an accident.
The key question is: Who will be held responsible if our driver claims that this "malfunctioning" technology has caused a crash? One could make a case that the driver had been negligent in not paying sufficient attention to the road. Another might say that the in-car entertainment technology didn't function properly, thus causing the distraction and crash.
Or, maybe the driver just didn't utilize the technology properly.
I visualize trial lawyers licking their chops at the prospects.
ARA TREMBLY is founder of The Tech Consultant and The Rogue Guru Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 12, 2013
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