Driver Distractions As Standard Equipment

by Don Elliott on December 13, 2011

Navigating a two-ton assembly of steel and plastic at seventy miles per hour through traffic that passes within a couple of feet should warrant a driver’s full attention. New cars have been equipped with a long list of safety equipment, making them much safer than all of their predecessors. Unfortunately, car manufacturers have also added a long list of potential driving distractions, with more to come on future cars.

Texting while driving, applying makeup, eating, and driving while intoxicated top today’s lists of driver distractions, all directly under the control of driver. New technology aimed at the younger driver promises to add extra layers of complication and even more driving distractions to the simple act of driving your car.

Let’s start with the simple act of starting the car. It is no longer necessary to insert a key into a lock or the ignition switch to get things going. Radio frequency technology makes it possible to start your car remotely, unlock the doors while your key fob is still in your pocket, and identify you as the driver. New features are in the works for the car to monitor your health. Blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and other health stats will soon be used to ensure you are healthy enough to drive. It all sounds like a nightmare for your local auto locksmith!

Once in the car, voice activated navigation, integrated phone systems, climate control features, Bluetooth technology, and infotainment centers provide an array of alternative activities to actually driving the car. Ford’s MyFordTouch on-board computer system has been criticized for being too complicated for many drivers to use. Two five-way switches on the steering wheel and multiple screens make it necessary to look away from the road, frustrating some drivers.

Several highline car manufacturers utilize “head’s up display” (HUD) to project critical information onto the windshield. This allows drivers to reduce the time spent looking away from the road. BMW has introduced color into their HUD, available on most 2012 models. Audi also offers HUD, but also includes infrared sensors to detect “warm” objects like pedestrians or deer that might wander into the cars path. The 2012 Audi A8 has an MMI control system or touchpad that allows the driver to write instructions, phone numbers, and messages with the touch of a finger. Combined with voice activation, the driver will be able to keep their eyes on the road. In reality, operating the technology and compiling the message to be sent provides at least some degree of mental distraction. The technology may be a driving distraction, but the cars have gotten smarter at preventing accidents related to driving distractions. New cars are equipped with sensors and crash warning systems to alert the driver when cars are too close, if they drift out of their lane, if there is a car in their blind spot, or if the driver drives erratically or appears sleepy.

My favorite techno-feature has been around for quite a while and taken several different presentations. I like it when the car lets me know when it is running out of gas. While it is helpful to know that I have 37.3 miles to go or am running at 21.8 miles per gallon, I still like that big orange warning light that tells me to start looking for a gas station. Better yet, I’ll have the navigation system tell me which stations are closest and which one has the best prices. Not only is it helpful, but it isn’t a driving distraction!

 

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