Episode 232 - Can Autonomous Vehicles Eliminate Distracted Driving?

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Distracted driving is an epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down. But autonomous vehicles could be the cure.

As NHTSA gets ready to publish new data on distracted driving, hear from Grayson Brulte, Host of SAE Tomorrow Today, on why the addiction to our smart phones must be dealt with—and how AVs can help.

Have your own thoughts on this topic? We’d love to hear from you! Share your comments, questions or ideas for future topics with Grayson on Twitter or send them to podcast@sae.org.

Meet Our Host

Host, SAE Tomorrow Today

Grayson Brulte is an autonomous mobility advisor and consultant who provides strategic counsel and political insights to help clients navigate what’s next.

As an SAE strategic partner since 2017, Grayson brings his in-depth industry knowledge to host SAE Tomorrow Today. His unique perspective factors in economics, politics and technology into one-of-kind weekly conversations with innovators changing mobility and its impact on society.

Grayson is a thought-leader who regularly provides insights to publications including Bloomberg, Reuters, The Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Hollywood Reporter and Forbes. His written opinions and insights have been featured by organizations including the Consumer Technology Association in presentations to the Federal Trade Commission.

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Grayson Brulte:

Hello and welcome to SAE Unplugged. I'm your host, Grayson Brulte. Distracted driving is an international epidemic that shows no signs of slowing down. No, no sign. Not even the tiniest bit of sign. Every single day that we get behind the wheel of a car, we are taking our lives into our own hands.

The roads are dangerous. A car is a weapon that can cause immense pain and suffering. It can kill, it can destroy families. That destruction will never be put back together again. That family will never have a Christmas without wondering why. Why did this happen? That family member was a celebrity of their family.

It doesn't matter that you didn't know that individual, their family did. It doesn't matter that individual's not on the evening news. It doesn't matter that you didn't read about it on TMZ. Let that sit in for a moment and wrap your head around that. That individual's a celebrity to their family.

It's reality. It's fact. It's real. It happens every single day. Every single day, someone dies on the roads of the world, and unfortunately, this horrific trend shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, it's only gonna get worse. It's accelerating. We are Distracted. You're probably distracted listening right now.

Society is distracted. We do not, for the most part, focus on driving when we're behind the wheel. Our mind is somewhere else. Is your mind somewhere else now, or have I grabbed your attention? Are you distracted, or are you paying attention? Driving is not a job to us. It's a way of getting to our destination.

When you're going to Whole Foods, do you look on the road? Do you look for bumps? Do you look for tires? Do you look for speeders? No, you don't care. You don't pay attention to the road. You think about what's on your grocery list. Or you think about, I got to respond to this text message, or I've got to call mom, or I've got to call the school.

I got to pick the kids up at three. I've got to do this. I got to do that. You don't pay attention to the road. You don't do that. Perhaps you're checking Instagram or Tik TOK. Yeah. That's right. You, when was the last time you pulled to a traffic light and didn't see someone was on their phone? You'd be hard pressed to remember that time.

Fact, I drove yesterday, don't drive very often. I drove yesterday light. Every light I went to, someone was on their phone. I challenge you to test it. The next time you are on the road, you will be surprised. Frankly, you're gonna be scared. Those individuals were on their phone, they were distracted. It happens all the time.

Does the phone care what you're doing? No. Does the phone care about your mental state? No, the phone cares that you pay attention to it. That's right, the phone wants you to pay attention, so you spend more time on the apps, they make more revenue. Guess what? You're in the car. You weren't paying attention to the road.

You were paying attention to the phone. You were immersed in the phone. You're addicted. That's right, you're addicted to that phone.

You're at the light. You're playing with your phone. That light turns green, but you're watching a video, stopped, didn't stop playing. What do you do? You pretend to drive.

That's right, you pretend, because you're not paying attention. And you're still watching that video. Why? As I said before, you are addicted to your phone. The phone is a drug, and you need your hit of dopamine. Without the hit, your mental IQ goes down. You're not happy. It's that craving. You need that hit of dopamine.

Don't believe me? You try it. You try becoming unaddicted from your phone. It's not pretty. You can do it though. Then if you want to look at our children, this gets scary and this gets sad. There’re books being published on how bad this is right now. Walk into any restaurant and count how many parents get their children's phones or iPads.

Let that sink in. For a day, a week, or a month. Let that sink in. Because guess what? The number of kids on devices outweighs the kids who are not on devices. That's scary. Because why? You know what this is doing? This is feeding into the addiction. That's right, our kids are addicted to devices. They are dependent on their devices.

Some kids can't even go to the bathroom without their devices. Some kids skip class to go hang out on their devices and look at TikTok and play on their phone. Why? Because it's a disease. It's an addiction disease, and it's a disease their parents passed on to them. The parents want to have a dinner conversation.

It's an addiction. Give the child a phone. I want to do this, I want to do that. Give the kid a phone, they're bored. Give the kid a phone. Parents created the addiction. That's right. An addiction. Our kids are addicted to phones. Addiction is a disease, and that disease will not magically cure itself the moment our child gets behind the wheel of a car.

You give a kid a set of keys. Here's 16, go have fun, sweetie. Go have fun, son. You know what goes with them? The keys go with them, what else goes with them? The phone goes with them. And when you're not there, nobody's watching, unless you're a parent put in a DMS, drive monitoring system. Funny you, that parent.

I doubt it. No one's paying attention. The child is on their phone. Disease is not magically going to cure itself the moment they get behind the wheel of that car. It's going to continue. Why? Because that child does not grasp the bad times that can come from driving a car. Sometimes those children feel they're invincible.

Sometimes they feel no matter what happens, nothing will happen. After all, they are teenagers. And what do teenagers do? They rebel. It's genetic. When we grew up and got our driver's licenses, many moons ago, we didn't have smartphones. In some cases, we had flip phones. Anyone remember the Motorola StarTAC or the line of Nokia brick phones?

But they didn't have apps for the most part. They didn't have access to a web browser, for the most part. They were simply just a phone. Call your girlfriend or call your friends, Hey I'm coming over. And if you're even older, that’s right, some of us are older. You didn't have a cell phone at first, you had a driver's license, perhaps.

You had a bag phone. You didn't have a driver's license. I had one of those. I think it weighed like 5, 6, 10 pounds. It was cool, though. All it could do was make calls, and You know what? It was a good phone, but the cell phone service was spotty. That was going back to the Bell Atlantic days, and for the individuals that are older like me, the Ma Bell days.

But what was that phone good at? Making calls. Today, what's the phone good at? Playing on apps. Keeping you distracted. It's all changed today. Children who grew up with the iPhone are starting to get the driver's license over the next six years, and guess what? Newsflash, they are not mentally prepared to drive.

You might disagree with me, but the data backs me up. The phone has destroyed my life. Our children. The phone has rewired their brains. Our children need that dopamine hit because they are addicted. The children born today are not the same kids that were born 20, 30 years ago. Those kids like me, we went into the backyard.

We rode our bikes, and we didn't come home till it was supper time. That was better than phone time! Bike time is better than phone time. It was damn sure better than sitting on the couch, counting likes time. Yet, that's where we are today. That's the sad truth. That's the sad facts.

That's the sad reality.

It's the God given truth. That's where we are. Sometimes in life, the spirit takes control, and the universe acts mysteriously. That's exactly what happened 20 years ago, in 2004, when we made the first DARPA challenge. The universe took control and acted for the benefit of humanity. The universe's soul shined and pointed society in a direction that's both good for our health and good for the economy.

The universe put the right people in the desert 20 years ago that would go on to develop autonomous vehicles. It's only started 20 years ago today, 20 years later, autonomous vehicles are here, and they are scaling. Go to San Francisco, go to Phoenix, go to Los Angeles, soon to be Austin. You could ride in a fully autonomous Waymo.

Think about that only 20 years, billions of dollars later, 20 years. We are here. As a parent, this moment gives you relief. What gives you anxiety is that you want to have these vehicles in more cities. You do not have to worry about your child getting behind the wheeled vehicle after they had a drink when they weren't supposed to, but they did anyways.

We were all kids. Come on. Let's be honest. We did it. You don't have to worry about your child getting into an Uber with a potentially bad driver. We've all seen the horror stories. You don't have to worry about your child getting behind that wheeled vehicle. Because they're addicted to their phone.

Thought alcohol was bad when we were kids? The smartphone's even worse today. The phone kills. Get into a crash, somebody could die. Alcohol, you get your stomach pumped with charcoal, you survive, it's a rite of passage. The phone? You kill. There's no coming back when you're dead. We're not Demi Moore and Ghost, there's no coming back.

Let that set in. When our children ride in the Waymo, they can tap away, like away, scroll away to their heart's desire, because they, Mom's not driving. Dad's not driving. Our kids are not driving. The robot's driving. Mommy taxi, daddy taxi. Woo, we got a break. They got a safe alternative. The robot. And you know what?

The robot does not get distracted. The robot does not drink. The robot does not get high. High driving and parry driving, it's a big problem today. It's a date on that, look it up. It's almost worse than alcohol driving. High driving and para driving. Now the robot simply has one job to get us to and from our destination safely.

That is what it does every single time that it picks somebody up every single moment that it's moving around the roads. It's getting us from point A to point B safely. It's safer to ride in an autonomous vehicle than it is to go into a vehicle with an individual on their smartphone. Why the smartphone addiction causes distractions.

Yet there's some individuals who do not wanna see this future. They want to see a future of increased carnage. Why? Because they're self-serving and they have an agenda that sees them winning. Not society. We are all members of society. We all deserve to love one another and do right by each other.

Autonomy does that. Autonomy eliminates carnage on our roads. Autonomy makes our roads safer. Autonomy makes our economy stronger. A stronger economy is the backbone of a healthy society. We must come together and usher in the future of autonomous vehicles for our children, our grandchildren, and their children.

They are counting on us. It is our moment to shine. We can do it. We can face the facts and own up to the fact that distracted driving is an international epidemic. The way to solve this epidemic is autonomous vehicles as unfortunately, the smartphone addiction is not going to dissipate any time soon.

It's only going to accelerate and soon Nitsa will be publishing updated data about just how bad distracted driving truly is. Perhaps the release of that report will change the tide. I won't be holding my breath. How many individuals do you see driving distracted each and every day on the roads? Let us know by sending an email to podcast@sae.org. If we come together and amplify the issue of distracted driving. Change will happen and this change will benefit every single member of society. Our kids are counting on us to do the right thing. Today is tomorrow. Tomorrow's today. The future is a future without distracted driving. 

SAE international makes no representations as to the accuracy of the information presented in this podcast. The information and opinions are for general information only. SAE International does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast.


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