Modern vehicles might appear safer than ever, but there’s an inherent danger lurking within every dashboard: the “infotainment” system. From interactive maps and nested menus to touch screen settings and illuminated dials, the system is a veritable treasure trove of cognitive overload, even for the most conscientious motorists.
According to the Los Angeles Times, both smartphone makers and automobile manufacturers have been ignoring the writing on the wall for years in regard to distracted driving. Despite the fact that the cars, trucks, and SUVs coming off the assembly line today are equipped with incredibly advanced safety features like blind spot detection and lane-departure warning, traffic fatalities are on the rise.
In 2012, approximately 33,000 people died in motor-vehicle collisions. In 2021, this figure was closer to 43,000.
Although the number of fatalities associated with distracted driving has remained steady over the last decade (between 3,000 and 4,000 annually), there is reason to believe these figures are not entirely accurate. After all, they rely on eyewitness accounts and/or motorists admitting that their attention was elsewhere.
Consequently, it’s virtually impossible to get a clear idea of just how many deaths could be prevented if everyone paid attention while behind the wheel. Considering fatalities in general are on the rise, though, it’s reasonable to assume those caused by distracted driving are, too.
Experts have proposed a number of theories on why more fatal collisions have been occurring in recent years. While there are undoubtedly several variables at play, safety specialists can agree that distracted driving is a major factor, and “infotainment” systems appear to be a leading culprit.
There are dozens of distractions vying for every driver’s attention, but mobile devices and their handsfree console counterparts appear to be two of the most dangerous. When the Los Angeles Times asked five of the biggest U.S. automakers what they’re doing to mitigate distracted driving, they all declined to speak on the subject. Instead, they offered to supply various public relations materials. The two leading smartphone makers—Apple and Samsung—also declined the paper’s requests.
When car manufacturers do speak on distracted driving, they often claim the solution is integrating more functionality in dashboard “infotainment” systems. While this mitigates the need to use handheld devices, however, it doesn’t eliminate cognitive distractions. In fact, it only enhances them.
So, what can be done to combat distracted driving? Safety advocates want to see policy changes, including a total ban on using mobile devices while driving, widespread awareness campaigns, and a commitment from motorists to pay better attention behind the wheel. They also believe manufacturers should incorporate “distraction-free” modes and more rigorous monitoring features into infotainment systems.
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