3,000 Teen Deaths from Texting and Driving


A study done by the Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New York, revealed that drinking and driving resulted in the death’s of 2,700 teens in the US, compared to 3,000 from texting and driving.

How about a quick, honest but anonymous poll:

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show this morning while cleaning the bathroom and enjoyed some great interviews in her Distracted Driving Month series. The topics were great, everything from the value of reversing cameras through to why car manufacturers are putting social media technology into their cars.

Anyway, a subject that peaked my interest was comparisons of factors impacting on or causing accidents.Talking or texting on the phone is one that that police and others who examine the results of motor accidents look for by default these days.

Peggy quoted a study (can’t remember which university) where they found that people with a blood alcohol level of .08 performed better behind the wheel than people who were using their mobile phone. If you want more detail, listen to Peggy’s back shows on her website or on iTunes, the latest ones being about Debunking Myths about Cellphones and Driving.

Just putting that into context, most people think that dialing a number (I only dial on my hands-free via voice commands with  Siri, or not at all these days) or sending a txt isn’t a big deal. I see ‘professional drivers’ holding their mobile up to their ear pretty much daily. One would assume they are sober, and mentally alert. I was also going to say relaxed, but if they were relaxed, they probably wouldn’t feel the need to take a personal risk, let alone knowing they are breaking the law; so you could surmise that they are already distracted and their minds are not on the road. Yet the study showed that drivers using their mobile were more distracted and less able to perform than those who were at a blood alcohol level where, according to a Blood Alcohol Chart on Wikipedia, they were at the upper range and would be experiencing:

  • Impaired reasoning
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Reduced peripheral vision
  • Reduced glare recovery; and behaviors including
  • Blunted feelings
  • Dis-inhibition; and
  • Extroversion

SheepI really enjoy listening to music when I drive and I have a full subscription to Spotify. I love it. My iPhone FM Transmitter sends it to my car stereo, while charging my phone. I like that. I have been guilty of occasionally looking down at my iPhone for the name of an artist or to skip a track. Our maximum legal driving speed on motorways and highways in New Zealand is 100kmph. Often that is on highways where kids play or cycle on the side of the road. All it takes is for a ball to bounce onto the road, or wandering stock to change things in an instant.

So I thought I’d have a look at the numbers and went to the Unitarium online speed calculator. I worked out that if my eyes were on my phone for 3 seconds (doesn’t sound like much) whilst driving at a legal 100km per hour, my eyes would have left the road  and I would have been oblivious to what was happening on it for 30 meters!

Have you ever done that?

They drive on the wrong side of the road


This is a follow on from my blogs on preparing for a USA Road Trip, but it is equally relevant to anyone going to another country and especially where they drive on the opposite side of the road to what you are used to.

It is very easy when you relax into your trip and get up in the morning, to accidentally start driving on the wrong side of the road and many people even in New Zealand have had accidents and even died by losing concentration and automatically driving on the wrong side of the road because they have been doing it for years at home.

The thing that struck me on my first driving experience in the USA was that the traffic lights are often in the middle of the intersection. In New Zealand they are before the intersection, so I almost stopped in the middle of the road.

One of the things on the top of my preparation list was learn the key elements of the US Road Rules. I had my navigation but it wasn’t going to tell me who had right of way. The rules work really well for you once you understand them.

One that was really interesting is 4-way intersections and we found loads of those. The rule is whoever gets there first has right of way, so you really have to pay attention when you get to them.

Another rule that works really well is that you can turn right at a red light if the way is clear, unless there is a sign saying you can’t at that particular intersection. Make sure you come to a complete stop first, I’m told police are often hiding waiting for people to drive straight through.

A rule that I thought was really good on the Interstates was that if a car was broken down on the side of the road, you have to change lanes to give them space.

Whichever country you go to, its worth spending half an hour to make sure you know the basic road rules. Relax and enjoy but don’t relax too much. I was driving onto a major intersection a couple of weeks ago and the nav said turn sharp left, so I did and found myself facing a one way highway full of traffic coming straight at me. I managed to back out safely, but it reminded me of the importance of staying alert at all times. Having said that, I really enjoyed the road trip and the little bit of preparation beforehand made a big difference.

My 3 Essentials for the US Road Trip


My Thrifty Rental

I’m going to go into more detail continuing from my previous US road trip blogs, but I want to start with the 3 items that were critical to the trip. Actually it should be 4 because the first thing is you can’t do a road trip without a vehicle. I booked an SUV with Thrifty Car Rentals, online. I have to admit some trepidation with this because they were less than half of the price I had been quoted by a number of New Zealand travel agents. I needn’t have worried. These guys were super professional from start to finish and I highly recommend you use them. Even with a queue we were done with the paperwork in about 15 minutes. We were then told to take our pick from a variety of Fords and Jeeps. We chose the Ford Explorer in the picture because it had tinted windows to hide prying eyes from the fact that we had all our luggage on board much of the time.

So back to my list:

  1. Car Navigation. I downloaded USA maps on to my TomTom GO LIVE 820 before we left. For a long trip the cost of renting car nav is probably more than buying one. I didn’t realise I could have also downloaded live services, which would have been awesome and solved some of the problems I had along the way, but nevertheless, our trip would not have been possible without TomTom. One lesson I learned in setting it up was that the file was way too big to go on the device, but when I put a SD Card in the slot it installed so easily I was worried that I had done something wrong. I hadn’t, it just worked. Grateful thanks to TomTom. It guided me to all the places I needed to go (I changed the voice to American, Kiwi and Australian didn’t really cut it with names like Lake Ponchtrain)
  2. My iPhone. I will go into detail in upcoming blogs about all the apps I used on my iPhone and why, largely because there were no single apps that could tell me what I needed to know about attractions, accomodation, food etc. This is great for the development community, but if I was’t a geek, we would have missed out on so much and probably have been dissapointed with our ability to meet our bucket list expectations. Not only the apps, but also the ability to stay in contact with family at home, using a combination of voice and data apps including Facetime, Skype and Voxer.
  3. A USA SIM Card. We spent about 2 hours in New Orleans getting a local SIM Card. Thanks are required to the team at Keep N Touch on Canal Street who were awesome. Our first trek into town was to Riverwalk Mall, thinking it should be easy to get a SIM card but the two mobile shops there could help us, but they only sold mobiles and accessories. Someone in the mall told us to go up Canal and there would a store there which could help us and they were right. The whole team from the store at Keep N Touch rallied around us for a $50 prepay card from H2O for my iPhone. First they had to take a micro SIM out of one of their phones to see if my phone was locked, then set up an account for me, then help me get it working. $50 got me unlimited calls throughout the USA, unlimited text messaging throughout the USA and 2GB of data! It worked pretty much flawlessly everywhere we went, while my wife’s Vodafone mobile had coverage less than half of the time.

I’m going to write a lot more about mobile and location based apps in upcoming blogs, but basically these were the essential elements without which we would not have enjoyed our trip half as much and you would do well to do the same as we did. The other item I will mention is that we have a service on our Orcon telephone and Internet account (I haven’t had a good run with them, but this one feature was great) giving us free calls to the USA for up to an hour at a time including US mobiles. Once we had the SIM set up, our children were able to call us on mobile, within the constraints of the time zones and we used it a lot.

Planning a Road Trip


Yesterday I wrote a blog called Location Based Lessons from FIT USA Road Trip and I am going to write a series of blogs about this experience.

At first it wasn’t going to be a road trip. As a songwriter I wanted to go to Memphis and Tennessee. I also wanted to go to places that neither I nor my wife had been, so all our experiences would be mutually new.

I would have loved to go to the Country Music Awards in Nashville, but we were too late to get tickets and accommodation in and around Nashville was up about 400% during the festival week. I googled tours for the Tennessee area and the awards and came up with pretty much nothing. There was a tour from Australia, but I really didn’t want to spend a couple of weeks with Aussies. It turned out there was a NZ tour going, I actually met them randomly in Chattanooga including getting a hug from the fantastic fiddler Marian Burns, who had so much fun playing that she had lost her voice. It was odd being in a country where people think NZ is either in Australia or somewhere below Wyoming, one woman said NZ is fabulous, they have some amazing homes in the Balkans, but I digress and she was from Alabama:)

So I contacted a few travel agents in Auckland. I visited a few and asked for brochures for the USA. No one had anything other than cruises. I then went on websites and phoned a few, saying I would like a rental car and to basically do a 3 week driving tour, focussing on Tennessee and Mississippi, based around music and history. What could they do for me. I quickly found out that they had no experience in the USA and the options they came up with made very little sense and were hugely expensive. They were not particularly helpful and their ideas ranged from fly to Chicago and drop the car back in Kansas to why don’t you do a tour of Canada. Their quotes for flights and rental cars were way above retail. They didn’t tell me about interstate drop off fees and I ended up doing half the work for them and still found them wanting.

So off to the net and DIY from scratch. The first thing I did was find the Tennessee Tourist Development Department who kindly posted me a tour book and map of the State. This was hugely helpful. I spent a lot of time reading, using Post It Tags and looking on Google Maps. I searched some car rental sites and found that Thrifty had the best deals by far and I managed to get a Ford Escape SUV for under half of the best prices that NZ travel agents offered me.

The next step was, while I wanted to be a FIT traveller, I needed somewhere to crash on the first night in New Orleans as we were arriving around midnight. I installed the Booking.com application which was recommended to me and booked an airport hotel, The Days Inn, for the first night, a couple of weeks in advance. I didn’t want to pick up a rental car in a city and start driving on the wrong side of the road at midnight after about 30 hours of travel and little sleep. The nice thing with Booking.com is that you can book and provide your credit card details, but in most cases if you cancel within a certain time, they don’t penalize you or take your money.

I also installed TripAdvisor on my iPhone and iPad which was both my lifeline and my nemesis. More on this in upcoming blogs. I relied heavily on the reviews on TripAdvisor and they never let me down. TripAdvisor was the best app I used on the whole trip, but it was incredibly time-consuming. It told me that The Days Inn was closest to the airport, had a free shuttle to the airport and that many rooms had noisy air conditioning. I figured we were going to be so tired it wouldn’t matter and I was right.

TripAdvisor is an excellent location based services application for not only acccomodation, but also places to eat and things to do. Of all the apps I used, this was the best, but it still left me wanting. This was a great lesson for me as a location based services and mobile data evangelist, eating the dog food so to speak. As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have learned so much on this trip and the big lesson is that if you are not a geek, then you have a massive learning curve with mobile data location based apps as available today. If you are a developer, particularly down under, you have brilliant opportunities to develop new applications that are more user friendly, and I can help.

mPass iPhone App

I then started planning for the next 2 nights in Louisiana, which I will discuss in my next blog. I will mention that we placed a bid on MyAirNZ for a Skycouch as this was my wife’s longest flight to date (Auckland to Los Angeles) and we had 2 more flights straight after that to get to New Orleans. We were told that we could bid for upgrades using airpoints and considered that as an option but looking at the Premier Economy that looked really impressive (and obviously felt so, looking at the big grin of a retired senior politician beaming at me from one of them on the return flight to NZ) they didn’t allow you to lie down, or get anywhere remotely like that. If there are two of you and you are happy to lie down in spoon position, I’d go with the cheaper Skycouch option and note that if they are not all sold, they get cheaper the closer you get to the flight, although there is a risk that if you wait too long you miss out.

I also installed Air NZ mPass on my iPhone which I also strongly recommend you add to your smartphone. It was quite helpful at times, which I will also explain later, at least when it comes to Air NZ flights, but not very helpful for code shares where it pretty much failed.

In my next blog I will discuss my next two days and how the American tourist and hospitality industry is getting really well-connected when it comes to mobile apps, social media and web sites, but there are major disconnects between having the apps and doing something with them. They appear to be ahead of New Zealand when it comes to business prescence on apps and websites, which is something NZ travel and tourism businesses need to address, because inbound tourists are going to have expectations I don’t believe we are meeting. A large percentage of those tourists will have smartphones and expect more. On the other hand, whilst everything looks wonderful, many properties pay lip service to social and location based media after they have invested in the technology and completed the app sign off. This is a similar attitude that many properties have to their web sites. Build and forget.

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