A recent Consumer Reports study examined how increasingly sophisticated in-car technology is contributing to distracted driving. In particular, the study looked at so-called “infotainment systems” such as touch screens and other types of dashboard controls. Whereas some technology is necessary for such things as adjusting the radio and temperature, the progression from simple knobs to digital screens is not only more confusing but also more distracting.
Now, drivers are able to navigate their GPS, surf the web, check social media, handle conference calls, and a host of other potentially distracting actions from their dashboards. Consequently, drivers become complacent and continue to drive distracted—all the while tempting fate.
In 2016, distracted driving killed more than 3,000 individuals across the US.
The extent of distracted driving
The AAA Foundation also recently released research revealing in-vehicle technology is dangerously distracting. Researchers examined the visual and cognitive demands certain activities take away from a driver who should be concentrating on driving and determined what level of distraction a particular activity wreaked, as well as the time taken to complete each activity. Navigating activities ranked as the most distracting, taking, on average, 40 seconds. Other systems generated either very high, high, or moderate demand. No systems were ranked as producing low demand.
Consumer Reports also conducted a national phone survey to determine distracted-driver behavior and public opinion. In the survey of 622 licensed drivers with a smartphone, 52 percent admitted using it while driving. This included using one’s hands to send a text (41%), playing music (37%), accessing the web or email (20%), and watching videos (8%)—all while driving.
The AAA added that just a two-second distraction doubles one’s risk of having an accident.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 37,461 traffic fatalities in the US in 2016, representing a 5.6 percent increase since 2015 and an 8.4 percent increase since 2014. Of these, fatal distracted-driving accidents involving a mobile phone rose from 12 percent in 2011 to 14 percent in 2015, and injuries resulting from mobile-phone related accidents rose from six to eight percent during the same time frame.
Now, with greater in-car infotainment systems, the distractions multiply. Granted, while some manufacturers are introducing technology to mitigate distracted dangers such as lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking, for example, these tools are not a substitute for keeping one’s eyes on the road.
The evolution of in-car technology
In 1996, General Motors first introduced its OnStar system. With the advent of 4G LTE wireless, manufacturers have sold millions of vehicles with such technology. The biggest problem with these cellular connections is that onboard WiFi hot spots are accessible: by as many as seven devices in a single vehicle. While this technology is great for passengers and bored children, it provides a huge temptation for drivers—and a significant potential distraction.
Some manufacturers are taking this technology even further by further integrating smart phones into the driving experience through such technology as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These systems simply transfer smartphone features to the dashboard. Other carmakers assert that they are doing their best to balance technology with safety by prioritizing voice recognition and disabling streaming video, games, social media, and web browsing on touchscreens.
However, even with hands-free options, the fact remains that just talking on the phone while driving is a huge distraction. University of Utah Professor David Strayer argues that hands-free systems are just as dangerous as handheld phones because the brain is distracted and that hands-free should not be confused with risk-free.
Washington has passed new legislation recently that rebrands distracted driving to a DUI-E (electronics) and is the first to do so. The law targets drivers who are distracted by any type of electronic device. In fact, Washington Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a provision in the law delaying its implementation by one year. It’s that important.
Despite efforts to sue manufacturers—such as Apple—for technology-related automobile accident fatalities, case after case has been dismissed. The unifying message the judiciary is sending is that people are responsible for their bad behavior, not inanimate objects.