Drive Studio to Make Atlanta a Hub for Designing Connected Car of the Future

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Distracted driving is one of the biggest threats to motorists on the road today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than nine people are killed and 1,000 injured in car accidents involving distracted drivers each day in the United States. Equally disturbing is the National Safety Council’s report that there have been more than 41,000 distracted-driving accidents in the country this year – and it’s only January.

Many states – including Georgia – have laws restricting cell phone use and text messaging behind the wheel. The Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety cites a 2008 AutoVantage motor club survey that ranked Atlanta as the sixth-least courteous city after 35 percent of drivers admitted they talked on their cell phones every day. Another study from 2008 found that Georgia has the third-highest rate of texting drivers in the country.

Unfortunately, the laws pertaining to texting and driving are not yet effective enough to curb the flood of people who still use their cell phones behind the wheel every day. However, we live in a world full of technological innovations, particularly in the automotive industry. Automakers are constantly striving to create high-tech “connected cars” for the future – and it appears that Atlanta is going to be at the forefront of the activity.

AT&T has announced the opening of its Drive Studio facility in Atlanta, a 5,200 square-foot space where auto manufacturers will explore new technologies to enhance drivers’ experiences for safety. An AT&T spokesperson described it as looking for a way to create a “smartphone on wheels.”

The Drive Studio is intended to look for solutions to problems that automakers already acknowledge when it comes to distracted driving. Many existing models come equipped with touch-screen interfaces, such as GPS, for drivers to use. But that creates both visual and cognitive distractions that require drivers to take their eyes off the road to use the function and takes their mind off the main activity at hand — driving. A possible solution to that problem would be enhancing cars’ capabilities when it comes to voice commands, according to AT&T.

Another high-tech possibility emerged at AT&T’s app hackathon in Las Vegas earlier this month, when a developer came up with Good Times, which can actually assess drivers’ levels of distraction by analyzing their brainwaves. If they’re too distracted, the software will tell callers to call back later. If it detects a high level of stress from the driver, it advises him or her not to make any phone calls at that time.

Two things are clear. First, distracted driving is a rapidly growing epidemic. Second, it’s going to take a team effort to reduce the numbers of injuries and deaths caused by a distracted driver’s irresponsible behavior. Lawmakers, law enforcement, parents, attorneys, auto manufacturers and technology experts can all make a difference when it comes to stopping distracted driving.

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