There’s no doubt that drivers are constantly bombarded by distractions. At any given time on the highway, you can see someone eating, applying make-up, fiddling with an iPod or GPS device, yelling at the kids in the back seat, or talking on a cell phone–or worse–texting on a cell phone. To a certain extent, some states have been proactive in preventing this kind of distraction, by implementing laws that prohibit texting and talking without a hands free device. They haven’t banned fast food or kids, and certainly aren’t likely to soon (after all, someone has to take the kids to soccer practice, ballet lessons, and play dates). But while states and even some wireless phone companies are taking the lead in encouraging people to drive distraction free, others are coming up with even more new gadgets to distract drivers–like a fully functioning, internet enabled computer.
Bachus & Schanker’s Colorado Injury Law Blog has a post yesterday about the latest driver distraction–a fully functioning computer, with the ability to connect to the internet, in the dashboard of vehicles. Bachus & Shanker tell us that these “infotainment” systems will contain 10″ screens that can connect to the internet and display maps, websites, and play videos. Audi and Ford are two of the first automakers to jump on the “infotainment” bandwagon, with the system becoming available sometime later this year.
Bachus & Shanker go on to speculate about the safety of such a system. Would the driver or the automaker who created the device be to blame for a car accident caused by a driver distracted by the device? Is there a possibility for voice control that would allow drivers to have emails read to them and to dictate emails in reply?
Though I know there is some pretty good voice technology out there, I have to say that I’m worried about this new device. A 2003 University of Utah study has shown that talking on a cell phone with a hands-free device while driving is just as dangerous as talking on a handheld phone. I find it unlikely that composing an email hands-free would be any less distracting. Nevermind the fact that watching videos or looking at websites would have the driver staring at the dash, rather than at the road–whether those pages and videos were found through voice search or a typed search.
What is the balance between technology and safety? I love my GPS, but I refuse to enter my destination in it when the car is moving, or to let anyone who is driving with me as a passenger do the same. You can nearly always pull over or off the interstate to get your bearings and take that important call, or select a new route on the GPS, and while I do these things, I know many other drivers don’t. Do we want to give them a fully functioning computer to be distracted by?