Technology Advances in Automobiles

In this age of the pampered driver, automobiles provide more than mere transportation. They provide a steady stream of entertainment, up-to-date information, and communication through technology gadgets, such as GPS navigation systems, satellite radios with remote controls, MP3 players, wireless phones, televisions, and DVD players. Modern carmakers often build these devices into the dashboard or console where they are in full reach and view of the driver. For cars not factory-equipped with such technology, buyers can simply use adapters to plug multiple devices into the cigarette lighter. It’s not uncommon for multitasking drivers to use lighters to power everything from laptops to cell phones during a commute. While these engaging devices can provide comfort and convenience, the driver can dangerously lapse into a state of perpetual distraction while using them, putting everyone on the road at risk.

Caution: Auto Technology May Equal Danger

According to brain research by Carnegie Mellon University, using technology gadgets in cars can be so distracting that it reduces mental focus on the road by up to 37 percent. At the time the study was conducted in 2008, wireless phones were the biggest dangers; however, as technology in cars has expanded, greater dangers have arisen as people try to input data into navigation systems and change the playlists on music players all while pushing the gas pedal and glancing away from the road.

Statistics affirm that road safety has decreased as technology has increased. In 2000, just 10 percent of crashes were caused by distractions, according to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis; now roughly 20 percent of crashes involve distraction, with phone calls and text messengers being the most common culprits.

Reducing Driver Error

Driving is a highly dynamic activity that relies on all the senses of the driver as road conditions change and drivers spontaneously interact with traffic and the maneuvers of other cars. Without leaving personal technology at home, there are things drivers can do to minimize their distraction.

First, many driving instructors recommend that all technology be adjusted before the car is in motion. Things like music selection, GPS input, and DVD operation should all be arranged before pulling out of the driveway. Phone calls should be routed through hands-free technology, such as Bluetooth. Special adapters are also available that can play phone calls through car speakers or the GPS system, reducing the need for volume adjustment and dangerous reaching. Secondly, in addition to pre-programming, assigning a passenger to manage all devices is another safe option. Even so, the volume of devices should remain low so as not to block sounds on the road, such as sirens, horns and train whistles. Experts also suggest limiting the time for entertainment devices so that the driver can enjoy periods of silence to restore alertness.

For parents concerned about teens using phones to text or call while on the road, there are blocking apps available, such as PhoneGuard and Zoomsafer; such apps restrict the phone’s ability to make calls and text when the phone is in motion.

A Safer Future?

Masterminds in technology recently met at a June gathering called Connected World Conference where they spent some time looking at how technology could become less distracting for drivers in years to come. Among the findings was the revelation that many automakers are creating smart dashboards that will adjust what technology is available depending on the driver and the road conditions.

For example, a smart dashboard will be able to cause touchpad control panels for radios, GPS systems, and video players to disappear or fade to black if the car is in motion during fog, a storm, nighttime, snowy weather or heavy rains. Using sensors, such dashboards will be able to distinguish between good driving conditions and poor ones. They will also detect which drivers are behind the wheel and whether that person is exhibiting behavior that suggests distraction.

Some carmakers also plan to connect devices to the automobile’s diagnostic system so that entertainment devices are blocked from being adjusted when the car is in motion. Until these safety mechanisms are implemented, however, drivers have the responsibility to take precautions and use in-car technology wisely. Otherwise, that momentary reading of a text or fumbling with a navigation system could be the last thing that the driver ever does in life.