Driver distraction and its connection to the uptick in preventable accidents is one of the top challenges cited by fleet managers. The greatest factor contributing to driver distraction has been the growing use of technology — in particular smartphones — while driving; however, a new concern will soon be confronting fleet managers in the form of wearable computers. These devices promise, at least initially, to amplify the risk of distracted driving by diverting a driver’s attention to information, which, although important to the driver, is irrelevant to the act of driving.

For those unfamiliar with wearable technologies, it is a wide range of miniature electronic devices worn for extended periods by a user on either his or her body or clothing. These devices will have numerous consumer applications, such as healthcare (continuous physiological monitoring, for example blood pressure or glucose levels), physical fitness accessories (heart rate monitoring or calories burned), or augmented reality devices, such as Google Glass, which provides Web-based information through an optical head-mounted display.

Deloitte, one of the largest consulting companies in the world, predicts there will be 100 million wearable devices sold by 2020. Such major corporations as Nike, Apple, Samsung, Philips, Sony, Google, and a multitude of tech start-ups, are developing a variety of wearable technology products. Intel is promoting “wearable solutions” built on its low-power processor technology through its “Make it Wearable” initiative. Intel foresees huge opportunities in the emerging market of wearable technology and forecasts the sale of these devices growing at a rate of 300 percent per year. Numerous companies are developing what is generically referred to as “smart watches,” which have the functionality of the personal digital assistant (PDA) of yesteryear, with augmented technology to provide enhanced capabilities comparable to what is found in today’s larger smartphone devices.

Use of Wearables by Drivers

Proponents of wearable technology are already talking about in-vehicle integration with wearable technologies worn by a driver. For instance, physical fitness monitors in the future will help vehicles determine climate control settings and measure the driver’s stress and fatigue levels, or even monitor a driver’s alcohol or blood sugar levels. Just as with in-vehicle smartphone integration, ABI Research, a technology market intelligence company, ultimately believes that most vehicles will be able to interface with wearable devices. As the use (and sophistication) of these devices proliferates, some industry observers predict that in-vehicle integration with wearable technology by either third-party providers or automotive OEMs will become widespread by 2024.

Another emerging application is hands-free wearable digital cameras that are either strapped around the neck or clipped to clothing, which continuously take photos, typically every 30 seconds. These wearable cameras use GPS to track where photos were taken and can store between 6,000 and 12,000 images. Wearable cameras currently on the market include Narrative Clip, Autographer, and Memoto. Marketed as “lifelogging devices,” they seek to record and archive all information about our daily lives, which could have positive implications with, for instance Alzheimer’s patients, or negative implications in terms of privacy violations. Ultimately, these digital images will be viewed as discoverable evidence and could be subpoenaed during lawsuits involving fleet vehicles. Wearable cameras can also provide positive ramifications, especially if photos help exonerate a fleet driver’s culpability or alleged negligence.

Wearable technology is being heralded by its proponents as a dawn of a new era by integrating digital and physical reality. It is inevitable that employees and businesses will be among the early adopters of these devices and use them in the workplace as productivity tools. Preliminary studies indicate that employees using prototype wearable devices increased their productivity by 8.5 percent and their job satisfaction by 3.5 percent. But, are there unintended consequences, especially when used by a mobile workforce?

Potential Legislative Backlash

A seminal event in the use of wearable technology occurred in January 2014, when a San Diego woman’s traffic ticket for wearing Google Glass while driving was dismissed because there was no proof the device was operating at the time of the citation. Nevertheless, legislators and their staffs are beginning to study the potential impact of using wearable technology while driving.

In a Feb. 25, 2014, news story, Reuters reported that Google is lobbying states where bans on wearables, such as Google Glass, have been proposed or are being considered. According to the Reuters article, eight U.S. states are considering regulation of Google Glass because they fear its use will lead to driver distraction and increase accident potential. In reaction, Google is lobbying state legislators arguing that it is too early to propose restrictions on the use of Google Glass because the technology is still evolving and in a developmental phase.

A recent study released by AAA reported that operating a vehicle while using a cell phone reduces brain activity related to driving by 37 percent. Similarly, drivers who are texting while driving are eight times more likely to get into an accident or near accident compared to non-texting drivers. Would comparable percentages correlate to the use of wearable devices? By definition, distracted driving is the act of driving while engaged in other, non-related activities. Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited about the future implications of wearable technology; however, I question the efficacy of their use while driving. With the added functionality of wearable computers, wouldn’t this simply amplify the incidence and frequency for drivers to become distracted?

Let me know what you think.

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By Mike Antich

About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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