Mobile technology presents an ever-increasing threat of distraction not just to the individual drivers who are tempted to use it, but to others who share the road. Car audio systems and cell phone conversations are somewhat distracting; text messaging increases the risk factor significantly. Today, even if you resist the temptation to use your cell phone while driving, your car’s built-in electronics may offer the opportunity to search the Web or update your Facebook status.
Toyota’s new electronic system, for example, called Entune, can link with Internet-enabled smartphones and display information such as stock quotes and weather forecasts.
Systems from other automakers allow drivers to access information from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Increasingly, even relatively benign tasks such as adjusting the vehicle’s climate control or radio are becoming sources of distraction due to the increasing complexity of controls for low-tech standard equipment.
Many upscale and luxury vehicles use a display screen and a single knob or joystick to control multiple vehicle systems, such as climate control, audio, and navigation. Others use touchscreens. These systems reduce the number of physical controls, streamlining the car’s dashboard and giving the appearance of simplicity. But in practice, they can be quite complex and distracting.
Controlling multiple systems through a knob or joystick often means wading through multiple menus to access the function you need. And touchscreens, unlike physical controls, are virtually impossible to use without looking at them.
Automakers should carefully weigh the pros and cons of increased data connectivity and control complexity in their models. Just because something can be done does not mean it should be done.