Would you install a steering wheel cover that can save someone you love from dangerous texting-while-driving habits?
"Distracted driving" is a nice term for talking about people dying while they text (amongst other things). According to the US Department of Transportation distraction.gov website, 3,154 people died in distraction-related car accidents in 2013 -- around nine per day. So any technology that can keep someone's hands on the wheel and off the phone has the potential to save lives.
Enter Smartwheel, a snap-on steering wheel cover that monitors hands on the wheel. The Smartwheel is aiming for a US launch toward the middle of 2016 with a price of $199 (around £135 or AU$275). It will deliver real-time alerts in three main cases: Having one hand off the wheel for too long, having both hands off the wheel at all, and having both hands too close together (because it suggests a phone is being held while driving).
The cover delivers visual and audio alerts to keep a driver focused, and logs activity via Bluetooth so a parent or a boss can learn how focused, or how dangerous, drivers are being in their car. The visual feedback in the demo suggests there is even a green light shining when you have hands in an OK position, but I worry that in itself could be a distraction, particularly when driving at night.
The material being used by the cover also has the potential to support gesture controls in future -- taps and swipes are both supported -- so instead of being nothing but a naughty stick, it could also give a sweetener that delivers control over phone functions without removing hands from a good driving position. For now, it's aiming to keep drivers honest.
It also feels nice in the hand, like a good quality steering wheel cover made from leather (I couldn't confirm with the rep what material it actually used).
The device doesn't feature any special lockdown features, relying on a trust relationship between whoever puts the Smartwheel in the car and the other people who drive it. While someone could always pull the cover off and ignore it, a parent or boss will know the device isn't logging any activity when they check in on recent logs (unless they don't even know the car was being used).