Distracted Driving Takes A Turn For Worse With Car Infotainment Systems

April 25, 2010

It seems to be happening in unfettered advances: OEM in-vehicle infotainment systems are being incorporated into new vehicles, creating another hindrance to the attention to driving. This is a concern because the rate of distracted driving incidents is nearing near-epidemic proportions.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, almost 6,000 people were killed and over half a million were injured as a direct result of distracted driving incidents (2008 data--most recent available).

Distracted driving exists in three basic forms: taking your eyes off of the road, taking your hands off of the steering wheel, and taking your mind off from the act of driving.
The worst culprit in distracted driving are cell phones and texting, but other distractions exist and those include the proliferation of entertainment systems that are a part of original equipment or after-market add-ons.

David Strickland, the head of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), agrees with this assessment. He believes that these systems “create more and more distraction for the driver.” There is some talk about regulating them as well.

As further evidence, Toshiba has shipped 14 million automotive-grade hard disk drives worldwide that add additional storage space to on-board infotainment systems. The reason is that the demand for these components is strong, which only adds to the concern about the distractions of the systems that in which they are installed.

What needs to be done to stem the tide, or at least make manufacturers aware of this dangerous situation?

Educate The Consumer
The first line of defense against distracted driving incidents is a strong emphasis on consumer education. The subject matter should be common sense, but the fact that the occurrences of these types of happenings are increasing tells us otherwise. People who drive need to be taught and told again and again not to allow their attention to be diverted from driving. The cold hard facts need to be laid out to them so that they are made aware of the problem of distracted driving and insert a measure of guilt in their minds about the practice.

The place to begin this educational process would be in driver education programs around the country. If student drivers can be taught early about distracted driving and the consequences, it might help begin to turn back the incidents.

Develop With Care
Manufacturers need to look beyond the latest cool gadgets and systems and their attractiveness to the concerns for safety and how their systems might contribute to distracted driving habits.

Set Standards Or Abide By Laws
There needs to be a set of standards to which all car and infotainment systems manufacturers alike need to adhere to. The baseline standards will help bring pressure upon manufacturers to be a part of the efforts to make distracted driving a thing of the past. If these standards prove to be ineffective, then laws must be enacted to accomplish the same goal.

At the federal level Ray LaHood and the U.S. Department of Transportation are already rolling out programs that are designed to target distracted drivers. The states of Connecticut and New York are participating in pilot programs that are designed to increase law enforcement efforts against distracted driving.

Also, other states are beginning to pass their own laws against cell phone usage and texting while driving. While it’s too early to tell whether or not these efforts will deliver the intended results, it is clearly a step in the right direction.

Distracted driving must take its place along with driving under the influence and become socially unacceptable before the number of incidents begins to fall. It will take a concerted effort by all parties in making this a reality.

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