One of the main selling points for a vehicle used to be its safety ratings. Now it’s the computer settings.
Why? We drivers want to be entertained while we go to our destinations. So automakers compete on which infotainment system best fulfills the instant demand for the internet, music, directions, phone connectivity, sports scores, stock quotes, and you name it.
The problem with this trend is obvious. Driving is not supposed to entertaining. It’s a dangerous task that requires the driver’s full attention.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety rated the distracting qualities of 30 of the most popular infotainment systems.
Which were distracting? You guessed it — all of them.
The study involved 120 test drivers between the ages of 21 and 36, which appropriately is the demographic most likely to text and engage in other distracting conduct while driving. The participants were asked to test drive 2017 vehicle models that included the newest infotainment technology.
Every infotainment system was found to be at least moderately distracting, with most of them highly or very highly distracting. The worst ones were installed in these models:
What makes infotainment systems more distracting than your average everyday dashboard? After all, drivers fiddled with the radio, music player and GPS system long before infotainment even became a word.
The clever graphics, bright lights, and abundance of data attract the eyes to the dashboard screen. The information overload is an accident waiting to happen.
And these systems do it all. While in the past, drivers might have had a radio dial and an MP3 player, infotainment systems offer endless choices for music — Sirius, Pandora, dozens of personal playlists. Phone integration allows the driver to text, dial and talk while racing down a highway. With Wi-Fi capabilities, a driver can search the Internet for restaurants or post to social media.
And yet auto manufacturers could easily rectify many of the distractions. For example, several systems allowed drivers to input an address into the directions function while the car was in motion. Manufacturers could create a safer system by making the direction programming module functional only when the vehicle is stopped.
Then there is ease of use to contend with. Consumer Reports rated the systems based upon usability and found some infotainment systems to be “downright frustrating.” A complex system inevitably means drivers will be trying to figure out the darned thing instead of concentrating on driving.
Infotainment technology is not dangerous by itself. These infotainment systems could substantially increase traffic safety.
Sensors, video cameras and a dashboard screen are helpful in backing up, especially for drivers with mobility issues. Speaking a command may be safer than using hands and eyes to manually change music or make a phone call. Drivers don’t need to look at a map if the GPS audio system tells drivers which way to go.
We need more safety and less surfing on our highways.