What will they think of next?
(On the notion of “e-billboards” popping up in your car's dashboard)
In Washington State, the legislature has taken aim at distracted driving by passing a law making it illegal to use a wireless communication device to send, read, or write a text message while driving (RCW 46.61.668). It is also illegal to hold a wireless communication device to your ear while driving (RCW 46.61.667). The reason for the laws is common-sense: distracted drivers are significantly more likely to cause a crash, and cell phones or other electronic devices are some of the biggest distractions we have. Although the laws don't address or make illegal every use of an electronic device while driving, they go far toward an ultimate aim of keeping the driver tuned in to the road, and not on incoming or outgoing communications.
Based on a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, I started to feel alarmed at the prospect of yet another new source of driver distraction. General Motors (GM), which offers high-speed Wi-Fi in its vehicles, will introduce a new service in 2015. The service allows drivers to get coupons from local retailers and make hotel reservations while driving down the road. Called “AtYourService:, the service will be offered through GM's OnStar information network. GM said it had signed initial deals with businesses like Dunkin Donuts, Priceline, and Audiobooks.com. The service will also give drivers access to parking information provided by Parkopedia, a website and mobile app that helps locate open spots.
When I read the WSJ article my mind immediately raced to a worst-case scenario: ads and coupons for coffee, burgers, gasoline, hotels, and any number of other products or services popping up on the dash display as the driver passes near or heads in the direction of each business. The driver, unable to resist, would turn their head and read each incoming ad, hoping to catch a good deal on something they needed or wanted that was now close at hand. While trying to read the fine print on the coupon to see if the free coffee required the purchase of a bigger coffee at regular price, the driver would slam into the back of the car in front of them or blow through a crosswalk full of pedestrians.
Fortunately, by the end of the article my concerns were somewhat allayed. At this point, retailer information will not be force-fed through GM's cars. Rather, it will be given through OnStar's live advisers when drivers ask for directions or request a service. So the service will be more akin to making a call using a hands-free device, which is legal in Washington. But as cars and wireless communication devices become more integrated, one can't help but wonder how soon targeted in-car advertising based on the driver preferences and surroundings will become prevalent, and what laws may be enacted to try and curb it.