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Beam Me Up, Dashboard

You’re sitting in a leather seat surveying screens of blinking lights and messages while your first officers are controlling and monitoring the Enterprise’s movement and trajectory. Scotty is sitting in the back fiddling with the Transporter, and Spock is sneering over your shoulder at a bad reading on the Ops panel. The Bridge Command center is your home and you love to override the operations of the ship, all with an unobstructed view of the main viewscreen. Unfortunately, your car is not the USS Enterprise, and that “smart dashboard” you’re playing with is the newest culprit of distracted drivers.

 

You know what dashboards we’re talking about, the ones that look like an iPad was superglued over your CD player and radio dials, displaying a compass, the song that’s playing, the temperature outside, GPS directions, a text message and facebook post, and a flashing, “Incoming Call from Mom Cell”.

Car companies market these “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, read 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 mentality 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 important aspects of driving because a situation can change in a second. Devices like these “smart dashes”, even if used correctly (not looking down), promote tunnel vision and autopilot driving which are as dangerous as plain old distracted driving.

 

These “smart dashes” also open up another can of worms regarding technology in cars and the question of “hand-held” devices. Sure, dashboards aren’t handheld but have all the doodads and technology to place them in the argument.

Currently there is little regulation on dashboard displays. Many states forbid non-navigational videos to be aired by drivers while 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, advising 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 mental distraction. While the technology is cool and entertaining, and on a certain level useful, it is incomplete, dangerous, and unnecessary. We don’t drive starships with command centers. 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. And the next time you engage warp speed, don’t use it at all.

 

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Thomas J. Curcio
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Tom Curcio, the driving force behind Curcio Law, is a dedicated trial lawyer with more than 35 years of experience in Northern Virginia. He has dedicated his career to representing people who have been seriously injured through no fault of their own. He works tirelessly to obtain the compensation his clients are legally entitled to…

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Rakin Hamad
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Rakin Hamad is a recent graduate of the George Mason Law School and joined Curcio Law as an associate in August 2018. Rakin works closely with Tom Curcio and staff in preparing cases from the initial client meeting through trial and has been a perfect fit for the firm. During law school, Rakin interned at…

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Julia Martinez
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Julia Martinez, a Florida native, joined Curcio Law as a paralegal in 2013. She began her legal career in 1998 working at a personal injury firm that primarily handled automobile accidents, slip and falls, and products liability cases. Then, in 2008 she expanded her knowledge by working at two other law firms. She obtained her…

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As the firm’s office manager, Kathy McAfee is dedicated to making sure the office runs smoothly and that the team has what it needs by way of resources, technology, and supplies to best serve our clients. Kathy graduated with a B.A. in Sociology from Roanoke College in 1986 and afterward, returned to Alexandria. She began…

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Maureen Burke was born and raised in the Boston, Massachusetts area and relocated to the Alexandria area in 1984 where she and her husband raised their three children. Maureen graduated with a BS in Nursing from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire and an MS in Nursing from George Mason University. Maureen has worked at…

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