Dashboard glitz is driving us to distraction -- and danger

  • Article by: JOHN HENRY SMITH
  • Updated: July 11, 2012 - 8:15 PM

The risks are especially high for new, inexperienced drivers.

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Each new year brings another round of high school freshmen and sophomores onto the roads. These students not only are inexperienced drivers but are distractible as well. According to the AAA, distracted driving contributes to 8,000 crashes a day nationwide.

As a teen, I know the excitement of driving. The feeling of freedom -- it's incredible. But with all of the new gadgets that have been put in cars supposedly to "help" you, driving is full of distractions. You feel the urge to text your friend from the car. Or to select your favorite song with your voice.

But we all know what can happen in that split-second you look to the screen on the dashboard. So is the newest wave of car technology worth the risks that it presents? Simply put, no.

With each new car comes a new breed of so-called "innovations." From Ford's new SYNC to run-of-the-mill voice-controlled assistants, cars are filled to the brim with distractions. About 99 percent of 2012 vehicles have standard Bluetooth connectivity for phones and cars, along with many optional navigation systems. Those distractions are to blame for an estimated 3,000 of the 33,000 deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes per year.

Putting drivers -- especially teen drivers -- into this environment is very dangerous. Due to their lack of skill and many other factors, each year more than 5,000 teens ages 16 to 20 die from fatal injuries caused by car accidents. Roughly 400,000 drivers in that age group are seriously injured.

That is appalling. Many of those deaths are caused by the distractions present in modern cars. If I were a parent, I wouldn't want to run the risk of my child getting harmed because of an 8-inch touch screen.

That isn't to say that teenagers are the only distracted drivers. Though they account for a large percentage of such deaths, adults are also to blame. I hate to sound like a reminiscing grandparent, but it used to be that passengers were a driver's biggest distraction. Nowadays, you can send or receive text messages from your car. You tell me: Which sounds more dangerous?

I am not against all new technology. I can't stress that enough. I love the idea of the Eco buttons that increase fuel efficiency or GPS software that aids navigation. What I am against is the increasing amount of attention-grabbing touch screens and app-capable computers in cars.

I'm fully aware that some of the systems are programmed not to work when the car is in motion. But there is one piece of technology that most people keep with them 24/7 -- their phone. Although 95 percent of people realize the danger of text-messaging from behind the wheel, 35 percent admitted to sending or reading a message while on the road in the last month, according to a 2011 AAA survey.

Many states, including Minnesota, have passed laws prohibiting texting while driving. But we still have to look at the car itself.

I think that car companies should offer a worry-free model -- one that parents can send children off in without having to wonder if their 16-year-old may feel compelled to play Angry Birds while in traffic. It would be incredibly easy for companies to do.

Simply make two different models of the same car: one with all the glitz; the other without the eye-grabbing touch screen, but with a feature that prevents any phone in the car from getting coverage. Adding that option to cars not only would save lives, it would expand the clientele of car companies. Not everyone wants a supercomputer in their car.

Why are car companies in a race to discover the highest technology they can put on dashboards? It doesn't make sense. We need to place restrictions on shiny objects and make the road a much safer place for drivers and passengers everywhere.

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John Henry Smith is a sophomore at Hopkins High School.

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