We are suffering a gravely unfortunate epidemic of distracted driving in the United States. The rate of fatal accidents has increased in the last few years, reversing a trend of decline which had been going on for decades. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 3,450 people were killed in distracted driving crashes in 2016 alone, and countless more were injured.
Recent discussions about distracted driving have focused largely on smart phones. It’s true, of course, that smart phones offer considerable temptations for distraction. They offer the ability to text, make phone calls, surf the Internet, take photos, and more, all from the palm of your hand.
Some concerned parents have made it a rule that their teenagers cannot drive with smart phones at all. There is certainly nothing wrong with this; indeed, it is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is just not a complete solution. That’s because phones are not the only possible sources of electronic distraction for drivers. There is another culprit which many people may overlook: iPods and other types of music players.
We tend to think of iPods as music machines first and foremost, but that isn’t the only thing they’re capable of now. Ever since the introduction of the iTouch in 2007, these devices basically offer everything smart phones do except the ability to make phone calls. That includes, among many other things, the ability to text and email.
Many parents who ban the use of phones by their teenage drivers would not think twice about letting them take a music player in their car. When they do, they may not realize they are still giving their kids access to considerable distraction.
This was not much of a concern until a few years ago. In the old days, iPods could only access the internet and text capabilities through a WiFi signal. WiFi signals weren’t available in cars, which meant an iPod in a moving car couldn’t do much more than channel music to the car stereo.
These days, technology is more advanced. While iPods don’t have data plans, they can latch on to “hot spots” created by nearby smart phones. Those give an iPod the same level of Internet access as phones get. Some new cars even emit their own WiFi signal, making internet access available through the car itself.
Legal issues can tie together in some surprising ways, and the multiple capabilities of iPods are no exception. One little-noticed legal battle in the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 Presidential election actually involves data on iPods.
Paul Manafort, who is scheduled to go to trial this month, has been fighting to keep evidence stored on several iPods he owns from being heard by the jury. Like many people younger than he is, Manafort apparently used iPods to store a lot of information. The fact that iPods can be used to send and receive communications in a highly secure way may have also been an attractive option to Manafort.
When the Russia investigation began, Manafort may have hoped the FBI would forget to get a warrant for iPods and think only about phones. The FBI did not overlook them, and got a search warrant that included multiple iPods at his home.
There is apparently some incriminating data stored on those devices which Manafort doesn’t want a jury to hear. Exactly what information remains to be seen, but it might be more than text or email. Those clever little devices can be used to make notes and sound recordings too.
Manafort’s battle over evidence, in a strange way, tells us just how much handheld electronic gadgets other than phones can do. It also tells us how much trouble they can cause when they’re used by the wrong people at the wrong time. These devices have an incredible range of capabilities, and can be a distraction to drivers of any age on the road.
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