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New Autos Offer More Gadgets, More Distractions

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 1:49 PM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Distracted Driving, Texting, Cell Phones, Auto Accidents, Collisions

The 2010 auto unveiled this week will offer more onboard computer distractions warn experts.

Plan for More Distracted Drivers


IMAGE SOURCE: Ford Web site on new dashboard

At both the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week and this week’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit - gadgets for your car are on display.

Experts say expect your automobiles to be the most extensive and expensive personal electronic device in your arsenal, which does necessarily translate to safety on our roads.

Already in existence is the Sprint, Verizon and AT&T 3G or 4G Wi-Fi adaptor in the car that allows anyone to access the Internet. The car in essence is a Wi-Fi hotspot.

That technology and more is coming equipped in your car with Ford the technology leader for 2012.

Some Fords offer Wi-Fi and touch screens on dashboard so you can check movie times, send tweets and plug your iPhone into the car to find out where you are. Displays on the dashboard will communicate not only car information but all incoming communications, such as an ad for Best Buy on the display.

Distracted Drivers

But do we really need more distracted drivers?

National Public Radio talks to Larry Magid, CBS News technology analyst and a blogger for cnet.com and co-director of connectsafely.org.

Magid says voice technology has improved over the years and a command such as “Call Home” is not likely to lead to much distraction. He adds that some safeguards are in place such as allowing video and web surfing while the car is in park.

And he adds Ford has thought about the safety of the technology.

“Well, the good news is - and I think Ford has put a lot of thought into the ergonomics of the physical connection in terms of having a switch right there on the steering wheel, having voice commands and activation and having the displays in as good a place as you can possibly put a display without disrupting the driver's ability to look at the road.”

But then there is the problem of the human brain – is it up to the multi-tasking while behind the wheel? California recently passed a hand-free law for phones.

Magid says he has two hands but only one brain.

“What about the fact that you're immersed in a conversation? What about the fact that you're thinking about which of 3,000 radio stations you want to listen to, or you're messing with your GPS, or you're configuring your video so the kids in the backseat can see it? These are all things that the driver has to think about in addition to navigating a 3,000 pound car down a highway. So I do worry about the safety implications.”


MIT’s Professor of Technology and Policy, Nicholas Ashford, says it plainly - there is a real danger for the pedestrian and passenger.

“The brain is compromised. And it is extraordinarily reckless to do to be promoting this technology.”

Just consider the peer-reviewed studies already out there from Virginia Tech and Harvard that show a four to 20 times increase in crisis events from cell phone use and texting, he says.

ICT or information and communications technology all require a higher-level of visual and audio functioning, Professor Ashford says, which distract the brain from the important task of driving safely.

“If all it says is “Turn Right” or “Left,” single commands are not very distracting. The longer they last, the more response they require from the operator, the more distracting.”

Ashford says nobody likes to have their freedoms curtailed, but drivers already must obey traffic and DUI laws.

Attractive Nuisance

Then there is the concept of attractive nuisance.

In the law, an attractive nuisance might be a swimming pool that doesn’t have a fence. It could be anticipated that a child might find his way into the pool and drown, shifting the liability to the pool owner.

The same could be said for auto companies that add this technology, according to Professor Ashford.

“The liability consequences of this technology are immense. It’s not just a question of a person using it responsibly. People don’t use cell phones or text responsibly. With an even more attractive TV screen telling you what’s available at Best Buy; I can’t imagine why you think it would be a more responsible.”

Then there is the concept of decompressing during some driving down time. Technology virtually eliminates that.

According to Ashford, “We can’t handle a 20 minute commute? That basically makes us automatons.” #

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