Car companies market “smart dashes” as the newest in safe driving technology. They insist the new screens will make driving less dangerous because of well-integrated voice controls and large touch screens that will keep drivers from fumbling with more dangerous mobile devices. Instead of looking down at your phone, you can dictate text messages to your cars, change the song with your steering wheel, and answer calls, all without your eyes leaving the road.
But is that actually true?
How many people still look down at their dashboards to read the incoming text, learn what song is playing, or are fiddling with the device to get it to the tab you need to use voice commands? You can’t be looking at the road and down at your dashboard simultaneously. These dashes are also becoming more and more intricate, allowing users to bring up twitter posts and post pictures. With these added bells and whistles, not only are these dashes tempting to the eyes, but they are distracting to the cognitive aspects of driving.
Say, for a moment, this is a perfect machine, and a driver need not take their eyes off the road once to use it. With that stipulation in place, car companies have reached their goal of “safety.” But as drivers, we know how treacherous the road is when someone isn’t concentrating on what is around them. Someone who is thinking about their next Facebook post is going to miss the pothole in their lane and run over it, popping their tire, or swerve at the last second, into the car in the lane next to them.
Cognitive awareness is one of the most critical aspects of driving because a situation can change in a split second. Devices like these “smart dashes,” even if used correctly, promote tunnel vision and autopilot driving, which are as dangerous as distracted driving.
Currently, there is little regulation on dashboard displays. Many states forbid non-navigational videos to be aired by drivers. At the same time, the car is in motion, save back up cameras, and federal motor vehicle standards merely stipulate that the brightness on the displays be adjustable. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued driver-distraction guidelines for dashboard displays in moving cars. They advise against displays that include photographs or moving images unrelated to driving and suggest that drivers shouldn’t need to tap a button or key more than six times to complete a task. If we did the math on this, with the accepted number of seconds for a glance and tap being 3 seconds, that’s a total of 18 seconds to complete a task. But these are just guidelines, with automakers under no obligation to comply.
The goal of these dashboards is to become more responsive and less dependent on glances and taps, but that doesn’t take away from the cognitive distraction. While the technology is cool and entertaining, and on a certain level, useful, it is incomplete, dangerous, and unnecessary. We don’t need the added distraction of minicomputers at our fingertips while we drive. If you have one in your car, understand its uses and the distractions that it poses and take precautions. Use it sparingly. Unlike a phone, it’s not something you can put out of arms reach.
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