From Japan to America: My personal journey with distracted driving

I like to consider myself a veteran traveler, having lived in Asia for several years and visited countries across the globe. Anyone who has done the same can likely vouch that adjusting to life overseas brings with it a chance for new experiences and a few surprises from the new surroundings. My biggest shock was when I returned home, though. After my second five-year stay in Japan I noticed a sudden change in the frequency of oncoming drivers veering over into my lane as I was driving.
New technologies in the connected car can reduce the surge in distracted driving, something I jarringly noticed after returning to the US from Japan

The explosive growth of mobile devices has left automotive consumers, both drivers and passengers, wanting to be connected to the information they want, when they want it. And while different generations of drivers may want or expect different levels of infotainment engagement, culture also plays an important role.

I often think back a few years to when I was reintroduced to American culture. Culture shock stories can be quite amusing, like when I moved to Japan in 1990 and got my first job as “AJ-Sensei,” teaching conversational English to all age groups from elementary school students to adult learners. I’ll never forget my first day teaching at the language school. During a break my students graciously offered me a cup of green tea. I took one sip and thought it tasted a bit sour, so thinking nothing of it, I put in a sugar cube to sweeten it up a bit like I would in the US. In unison my students all let out a booming “Ehhhhhhhhh!” while I recoiled at their facial expressions when they all grimaced in shock. Note to self: no sugar in green tea.

When living overseas culture shock is to be expected, but the reverse culture shock I experienced moving back to the US was far more impactful. When I returned from my second five-year stint in Japan in 2010, I experienced culture shock behind the wheel and the frequency of oncoming drivers veering over into my lane.

The proliferation of mobile devices and content in society was accelerating, and their resulting negative on driving safely was really scary.  People’s hands and eyes were on their phones, sending text messages and searching for music.

Working in the automotive industry, I’ve had an opportunity get a hands-on and more objective picture of the adverse effects of in-car use of mobile devices during a simulation test.  While driving the virtual car down the highway, I attempted to completed tasks of increasing difficulty such as answering the phone and inputting an address. I ended up crashing when I attempted to type in a text message with my fingers.

Thankfully, our culture is shifting to one that embraces a safer, smarter driving experience as cars become increasingly connected to the cloud and content.  Automakers and companies in the automotive ecosystem have been focused on bringing intelligent voice capabilities into the car that give people the connectivity they want – while minimizing the visual and manual distractions.

While I was at CES in January, there was a lot of excitement around the introduction of Nuance’s Dragon Drive Mobile application, which bridges the gap between the connected experiences in the car and on the smartphone, and Dragon Drive Daily Update, a virtual assistant service optimized for infotainment systems that gives drivers their own customized news headlines, traffic, weather, sports scores and calendar updates after entering their vehicle, triggered by the sound of their unique voice. In concert, these technologies can reduce the urge for drivers to reach for their phones while behind the wheel.

In the mobile-centric connected world that we live in today, expectations and norms are constantly evolving at a rapid pace.  What were once considered novelty or additive technologies are today things we can’t dream of living without – mobile phones on our bedside tables, navigation systems in the car, and so on.  It’s with this in mind that I try to apply my personal experiences, including what I learned through culture adaptation, to my work here at Nuance so that we can bring consumers a safer way to engage (and stay connected) in our digital world.

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A.J. MacKinnon

About A.J. MacKinnon

A.J. MacKinnon is Director of Business Development, Automotive Strategic Accounts of the Mobile Division at Nuance. In this role, he provides business support and business development activities for Nuance’s automotive products and the automotive global sales team. Prior to this, A.J. served as Japan Sales Director at Nuance Communications Japan K.K. during which he managed five sales teams: the Automotive, Mobile, Dragon, Imaging & Enterprise sales groups. A.J. initially joined Nuance in 2001 as a Global OEM Account Manager for Nuance’s Dragon and Imaging products. Previously, A.J. worked at NetSilicon as Business Development Manager and at Compaq Computer Japan K.K. as Senior Sales Representative. He earned a Marketing degree from the University of Massachusetts and has completed an advanced Japanese course at the Asahi Culture Center in Tokyo.