There was a time when a distracted driver was a parent fuming at a couple of kids yipping at each other in the back seat. Today, the internet and social media are all around — including on our dashboards.
Drivers can check Facebook posts, pore over e-mail or chart a course for the nearest French restaurant, all while cruising down the highway. It may be a sign of the times, but it’s nonetheless an outcome of automobile innovation that needs addressing.
A new study commissioned by the American Automobile Association’s Foundation for Traffic Safety warns that the latest models are brimming with bells and whistles that dramatically ramp up the potential for distracted driving. Researchers looked at the infotainment systems inside 30 new car models, assessing driver interaction with calling/dialing, texting, radio tuning and navigation functions. The car models’ rankings were based on their level of visual and/or cognitive distraction: low, moderate, high or very high.
The results: 23 of the models tested had high or very high distraction levels. None of the models had a low level. How bad was the distraction? Programming a car’s navigation technology — inputting an address, for example — took an average of 40 seconds. That’s about the time it takes a car going at 25 miles per hour to drive the length of three football fields. Sending a text or e-mail distracted drivers up to 27 seconds, the study found.
Distracted driving should be discouraged with the same urgency as drunken driving. About 10 percent of the 35,000 traffic deaths in America in 2015 involved a distracted driver, a nearly 9 percent jump from 2014. And distracted driving is a factor in more than half of car trips that end in a crash, according to a study by Cambridge Mobile Telematics, which creates apps for car insurers.
It’s not that a neo-Luddite backlash to car technology is required. Navigation systems indeed help us get from A to B. Hands-free technology has rendered making phone calls safer while driving. But carmakers can do a lot more to minimize the risk of distracted driving.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE