In-car e-mail service emphasizes driver safety features

A Waterloo, Ont.-based company has announced a technology product that will allow drivers to listen to their e-mail messages while they drive.

Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. (IMS) launched iLane on Monday, but it won’t be available until the first quarter of next year, according to the company.

Ben Miners, product manager, IMS, said the hands-free e-mail software runs on Windows Mobile devices such as the Palm Treo and Motorola Q, but not on devices based on the Symbian OS platform. iLane automatically detects the presence of the driver when he or she enters the vehicle. The software uses the handheld device’s existing Bluetooth connection to read messages out loud and listen to the driver’s instructions.

 “iLane is a product that focuses on driver safety to allow the driver to listen to their e-mail and interact using voice with their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road,” said Miners.

In terms of safety issues associated with hands-free technology, Miners said people will continue to use their devices, despite legislation that says otherwise.

“You can’t stop people from wanting to access their e-mail,” said Miners. “But you can provide tools to make it safer for people to access their e-mail.”

Newfoundland is currently the only province in Canada that has banned cell phone use while driving. Other territorial and provincial legislation, such as Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, contain nothing that would prohibit the use of such a device unless it restricts the driver’s view, according to a Ministry of Transportation Ontario spokesperson.

Bob Nichols, MTO spokesperson, said the ministry, “reminds all drivers to pay full attention while driving,” and that, “driving distractions can take many forms inside and outside of the vehicle.”

Nichols added that failure to show due care while driving could result in the driver being charged with careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act – which could result in a fine of up to $1,000, six demerit points, possible jail time or licence suspension. In more serious cases, the driver could be charged with dangerous driving under the Criminal Code in which case he would face up to a $2,000 fine and jail time of up to two years.

The Canada Safety Council (CSC) is not in favour of cell phone bans but Raynald Marchand, manager of traffic safety and training at the CSC, said any distractions should be dealt with quickly and efficiently so the person can get back to the primary task – driving. Marchand said the degree of distraction depends on cognitive ability.

“If we’re having a light conversation about the weather, that is not going to be making a huge difference,” he said. “If we’re having this interview, that is absorbing a lot of your thought, then you’re not driving anymore.”

Marchand added it’s not as much the technology but the level of conversation that is distracting to the driver.

“A technology that would read e-mails would require substantial cognitive requirements because you have to listen to what is being said,” said Marchand. “E-mail tends to be more complicated than general conversation.”

Likewise, Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group in London, Ont., said e-mails can be quite involved and very detailed pieces of information.

“I would furrow my brow upon listening back to e-mail,” said Levy. “It could be, if it’s not a quick response, a fairly involved cognitive experience when you’re driving.”

Having said that, Levy, like Marchand and Miners said that it’s impossible to change human behaviour.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Levy. “Mobile phones are everywhere and the rich mobile technology is everywhere.

“This is a technology that attempts to mitigate the risk associated with what has become a very real human behaviour.”

Miners said the closest technology to iLane on the market today is a service that lets users listen to their e-mail via their cell phone. The technology behind iLane is currently awaiting patent approval in Canada, the U.S. and in Europe.

In terms of adoption rates, Info-Tech’s Levy said the technology will most likely be used by people who charge large sums of money for their time such as lawyers or people who work in the financial services sector. Levy said the general public is not ready for this level of technology.

“Initially cost and complexity of installation will limit its overall market appeal,” he said. “This will not be a mass-market technology, at least in its initial form.”

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