Do Dashboard Restrictions Diminish Distracted Driving?

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Is your in-car entertainment system leading to distracted driving? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) thinks so. Just last month, NHTSA called on automakers to stop equipping automobiles with entertainment and navigation systems. Are tougher restrictions or distracted driving laws the answer?

Thanks to the proliferation of in-car entertainment and navigation systems, coupled with cellphone use while driving, distracted driving is a leading cause of motor vehicle accidents. According to Distraction.gov, in-car entertainment and navigation systems take the hands, eyes and mind off the road. For example, entering directions on a navigation system or viewing a text can take a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving an entire football field blindfolded.

With increased functionality built into dashboards, even a simple action like changing the radio or turning up the volume can be a distraction.

If you don’t text or talk on the phone while driving, it’s easy to forget that in-car entertainment and navigation system use is also a serious distraction. Not only are your eyes off the road, but your mind is off the road, too. Driving distractions statistics from NHTSA clearly show just how serious visual and cognitive distractions can be:

  • In 2009, 5,747 people were killed due to driver distraction
  • In 2009, 448,000 people were injured due to driver distraction
  • One out of every five accidents is due to distracted driving

With increased functionality built into dashboards, even a simple action like changing the radio or turning up the volume can be a distraction. And while voice commands help, they may not be very reliable. It’s unclear how many drivers actually utilize voice commands or even Bluetooth calling systems from the car.

So in the interest of safety, should the government restrict car manufacturers from adding distracting entertainment and navigation devices to cars? The Department of Transportation recently issued broad guidelines calling for automakers to limit the inclusion of technology that causes drivers to take their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel for more than two seconds. However, these guidelines are just that—suggestions—and no penalties will be levied against automakers that fail to comply.

While distracted driving laws exist to curb cellphone use and texting, there are no such laws restricting in-car entertainment and navigation systems.

Some experts feel bringing Apple’s voice control system Siri to the car as part of a comprehensive entertainment and navigation system may help reduce distracted driving.

Both automakers and the NHTSA stress that hands-free voice commands are key to reducing distracted driving, although the NHTSA acknowledges that many voice command systems currently available in vehicles are less than effective.

But what about Apple’s voice command system Siri? The latest hot Mac rumor isn’t about the iPad or the iPhone—it’s about an Apple in-car user interface. Apple holds multiple patents for in-car user interfaces, and recent headhunting in China suggests that Apple is looking for a team to produce a dashboard interface.

Some experts feel bringing Apple’s voice control system Siri to the car as part of a comprehensive entertainment and navigation system may help reduce distracted driving. The driver’s media content could be pre-loaded through iCloud via a home’s WiFi system when the car is parked in the driveway. Thanks to Siri, drivers could still keep their hands on the wheel, even while getting turn-by-turn navigation instructions, looking up a destination’s address or even swapping out playlists. There’s no need to take the eyes off the road or the hands off the wheel.

Talk back: Would incorporating Siri or enhanced voice-control in vehicles reduce distracted driving?

For more on distracted driving prevention, check out the Tools and Resources section on Allstate.com.

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Brendan

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