We humans are a determined lot, always trying to test our skills. The fearless among us like to read the newspaper while we drive, and the busy ones enjoy talking on the phone during the cruise home. And now there's the latest group, people for whom sitting behind the wheel is no different from sitting behind a desk. When those work-on-the-road types put the pedal to the metal, it's time to start E-mailing, faxing, and calling up their contact managers.
Using a car accessory like the AutoExec from Mobile Office Vehicle, in Zeeland, Mich., more and more drivers are setting up their laptops on miniature desks that strap into the passenger seat. Or they're attaching a small table to the steering wheel right at puncture-a-lung level. A brochure for the AutoExec shows a male model at the wheel of a car comfortably typing away on a laptop resting in front of him. Not something you'd want to see going on in the car next to yours during the morning commute. (It's worse than a pick.) Of course, the brochure says that the "AutoExec is not designed for use while driving. Park safely before using."
But despite the company's carefully crafted caveat, experts fear that laptops in cars pose a hazard. "The danger is obvious," says Quinn Brackett, a former research scientist at the Texas Transportation Institute, at Texas A&M University, and the founder of Brackett & Associates, in College Station, Tex. Brackett argues that making it easy for drivers to have computers creates the temptation to use them even in risky situations. "We don't have statistics," he admits, "but we don't need statistics to know that driving with an open laptop can be unsafe." A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that the government agency has recently begun collecting data on the use of laptops in automobiles.
-- Joshua Macht