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In-Car Computer Technology Causing Driver Distraction


There is a lot of talk about "smart cars", cars that have automated technologies and many of the capabilities of today's smart phones. Car manufacturers realize that in-car communications systems such as Bluetooth and voice-recognition are key features to being competitive in today's automotive market. Fifteen percent of new-car buyers report avoiding a model if it lacks certain technological features, up from four percent the prior year. Consumers want the ability to make phone calls, get directions, and change the radio station without using their hands, all in an effort to make driving safer. But does it?

The vehicle durability study by J.D. Power shows that the in-car communications systems are a source of frustration to many car buyers. Many drivers complain that the systems are not very reliable; either the Bluetooth does not recognize a person's phone, and/or a voice recognition system does not recognize a car owner's voice, and/or misinterprets commands. All in all, experts fear that these system malfunctions lead to the opposite of their intended purpose; instead of making driving safer, these in-car systems may be causing increased driver distraction.


In a recent issue of Consumer Reports, one of its editors describes a drive he took in a 2012 vehicle; during the drive he was able to access an extended weather forecast, check stock quotes, perform web searches for nearby restaurants, and press touch pad entries for additional information. All of this was available through an in-car communications system, activated on the dashboard.

Even though in-car communications systems allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road and some even allow drivers to keep their hands on the wheel (voice-activated technologies), multi-tasking while driving leads to cognitive distraction and therefore less safe driving. Research conducted at the University of Utah and led by Dr. David Strayer, a neuroscientist, found that using voice-activated systems to do tasks un-related to driving creates cognitive distraction. Put simply: texting, emailing, and using Twitter are still dangerous while driving, even if not done on hand-held devices. Dr. Strayer concluded that driving must be the primary task the brain focuses on, with any other tasks being very limited--such as a conversation with a passenger or on the phone. Simply because technology enables us to send texts or post to Facebook while driving does not mean that we should.

Putting the genie back in the bottle could be tricky, however. Assuming that car manufacturers will continue to include communications systems in their new vehicles, and assuming people will continue to use these systems, perhaps the next best safety option is to improve the systems themselves. If, for example, a voice-activated system recognizes a voice better and does not misunderstand commands, a driver would be less frustrated and more able to concentrate on driving. Making the systems more reliable and user-friendly would eliminate at least some of the distraction; eliminating enough to render driving with the system safe is up to the driver.


If you have been involved in an accident due to distracted driving, contact your Atlanta personal injury attorney Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm.

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