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Screen dump: How smartphones are ruining driving

By Stephen Corby, 24 Dec 2014 Features

Screen dump: How smartphones are ruining driving

Adding games and apps to our cars ain't going to make driving more attractive

TELEVISION used to rule our lives. Many of you are possibly old enough to remember rushing to get home in time for what we defined as Event TV (a new Simpsons episode for example - yes, that long ago). Today, I even time-shift live sport to avoid watching commercials.

The television, while it has grown to loom over our lounge rooms, is no longer the dominant screen in our lives, because it can’t fit in our pockets, nor entertain us in those long, dull seconds in line at the supermarket.

No, the number-one screen in our lives now is the mobile phone; source of all social media, actual news, tweets, desperate single people in your vicinity and sometimes even a communications device.

While we’re all fixated on our phones, the scary thing is that young people seem to prefer them to driving. Talk to any major car exec, particularly the Japanese, and they’ll tell you that, in large swathes, young people have simply stopped buying cars, which does not augur well for the future.

I’ve seen it myself, because I can name a handful of teenagers I know - overpaid babysitters of mine, mainly - who are more than old enough to have a licence but have never even bothered getting their learner’s permit. When I was 17, this would have been justification for a severe beating from all your friends. It still should be.

Worse still, these slacker generations, creeping up behind us like well-dressed zombies, are going to ruin driving for everyone.

For a start, car companies are attempting to introduce “gamification” and “apps” into your driving experience, with the new Skoda Fabia and Volkswagen Passat offering a music synthesiser app that produces “ambient sounds” to reflect how you’re driving. That won’t encourage jerky or stupid pedal stamping at all, obviously.

Better yet, they have a game that allows you to set a time along a piece of road – even a public one, you’d guess – and then try and match it, which you do by driving and watch a graphic representation of your previous effort on a screen in the centre of the dash, at the same time.

Gamification is going to be big, the man from Volkswagen with the PlayStation pallor told me. Sounds great.

But fear not, because these car haters won’t be driving anyway, they’ll just be sitting in cars staring at their phones and texting things like “look Grandpa, no hands”.

I’ve been a in a clever self-driving Lexus that could handle Tokyo traffic, and it’s supposed to be on sale in 2015. It’s scarily good, and it’s the end of driving as we know it.

Lexus says it’s introducing the tech because Japan’s population is ageing faster than Obama and it needs to keep its oldies mobile when they’re too doddery to drive.

But other companies, such as Volvo, are very much focused on getting the younger, trendier and more Swedish (safety loving) customers. Check out their ad for an autonomous Volvo to see what driving, or rather not driving, will involve in the future (lots of texting).

And after you’ve watched it, just shoot me.