The La Jolla, California-based company BUMP launched earlier this week with an eponymous web service that uses license plates as a means to connect with drivers around you. As reported by Technology Review and Popular Science, users can “claim” their license plates and receive messages sent to them by other drivers. For now, senders have to specify the plate number and state to send a message, but future iPhone and Droid apps will make use of image recognition, and messages can be sent by taking a picture of the recipient’s license plate.
While the TR article focuses mostly on how the app works, the PS article explores the potential uses for the app, both good and bad. They echo some of the company’s suggestions on how to use BUMP, including alerting someone that they left their lights on or sending a message to the cute driver stopped next to you at a red light. BUMP also appeals to businesses, such as fast food restaurants recognizing your license plate and reminding you what you purchased last time, or a sports arena welcoming you and providing discounts on tickets or merchandise. The company also acknowledges some downfalls, including spam or inappropriate messages, and lets users adjust privacy settings on their accounts to control who can contact them.
But neither of these articles address what seems to me is the most glaring problem of all: the use of mobile phones while driving. As of this month, 30 states have banned text messaging while driving, with 8 more banning texting for novice drivers. The BUMP website makes sure to post safety disclaimers, instructing BUMPers not to use the service while driving, or else have their passengers send messages for them, but still encouraging drivers to make use of the service with suggestions such as “Take advantage of BUMP’s voice-to-text feature,” and “Place your phone within easy reach.” Yet, it allows users to receive messages as texts directly on their phones in real time, rather than having to retrieve them via email or voice mail.
And perhaps my eyesight is worse than most, but how far behind a car can you really be and still be able to read the license plate, or have your phone take a clear picture of it, especially at highway speeds? What if the message you really want to send is to the person driving just a little too close behind you (and who, ironically, may just be trying to get close enough to send you a message)? I’m curious to see the number of BUMP-related traffic incidents in the near future.
Also, will BUMP take road rage to a whole new extreme? Will I arrive home at night and find my inbox full of expletive-laden messages? Or, if I choose to receive my messages as texts, shoot back a nasty reply while the sender is still around? Will such encounters escalate to actual violence?
Of course the service could come in handy, say, if a good samaritan wanted to let you know your parking meter was going to expire, or, in what so often ends tragically, that you had left a child or pet in a car. But personally, the risks and privacy concerns outweigh any potential advantages, and that is why I think BUMP is a Bad Use for a Mobile Phone.
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