NMA E-Newsletter #251: Usefulness Takes a Backseat to Technology and the Law

Did you rush out and buy the latest and greatest iPhone, the 5S model, as soon as it became available last month?  If so, this newsletter is for you.  Actually, since smartphone technology typically follows in Apple’s footsteps, everyone who uses the mobile communication devices will eventually need to pay heed.  Here’s a hint:  Many of you aren’t going to be happy.

As of October 2013, eleven states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and West Virginia – have strict “no touch,” primary enforcement regulations regarding cell phone use by all drivers, regardless of age or experience.  Illinois will join the cadre beginning January 2014.  Washington, D.C. and U.S. Territories Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands already are in lockstep with the gang of eleven.

The 5S has a new security feature that is creating a lot of buzz:  Touch ID that incorporates a fingerprint sensor.  Unless you cancel the sleep function of your new iPhone, the only way to unlock it is to place the designated finger on the home button/sensor.  (In some cases, a passcode will also have to be entered.)  Yes, biometrics is giving the finger to your hand-held electronics.

That alone isn’t an issue, unless you are short on patience.  The real problem is highlighted by a NMA member who uses a company iPhone 5S when making service calls in some of the “hands off” states.  He and other on-the-go employees like him depend on the wireless phone to verify appointments and receive last-minute changes in instructions from home base.  His employer requires that the lock function be enabled for security reasons.

With law enforcement ratcheting up its clandestine techniques to catch cell-phone-using drivers (Newsletter #198, “I Spy With My Little Eye”), service technicians, sales people, and others who visit clients as part of the job are at greater risk of getting a ticket when their mobile phones cease to function without periodic physical contact.

So what is wrong with them stopping periodically and getting out of their vehicles to return calls?  That can become impractical for service personnel who get rerouted quite frequently on short notice or who are stuck in traffic and need to alert their next appointment.  The member who called us to raise this issue believes the hands-off laws combined with the new phone authentication features will cost companies like his millions of dollars in ticket penalties and lost productivity.  His solution?  Don’t penalize the cell phone users if they have done nothing wrong other than use their phones for commerce or roadside emergencies.  Hit the auto manufacturers and tech companies with stiff penalties until they come up with solutions that allow for ID verification schemes while using the phones in hands-free mode.

It may seem a bit harsh that our friend is placing blame on the technology integrators for not yet developing workable solutions for marrying road travel and mobile communications.  We prefer to call out the lawmakers and law enforcers for moving our society closer to the complete banning of cell phone use by drivers despite studies from the insurance industry that show the bans are ineffective.  Prohibiting cell phone use may be the politically expedient thing to do but it is not the effective way to deal with demonstrated (as opposed to anticipated) instances of dangerous distracted driving.

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