Misuse of New Car Technology Responsible for Distracted Driving Problems

Today’s new cars are coming fully equipped with all kinds of tech from a built-in phone, infotainment system, turn-by-turn navigation and even the ability to do internet searches or post something on social media. All at the touch of a finger. 

Sounds great, right? But a recent study done by AAA and the University of Utah showed activities like programming a navigation system or using an infotainment system – let alone talking on a cellphone – could potentially be unsafe to do while driving. 

Despite the potential dangers, a recent sting operation by the Ingham County Sherriff’s Office proved there are many distracted drivers on the road every day. In only five hours, deputies gave out more than a dozen tickets for distracted driving offenses. 

What constitutes distracted driving? Most people think it is just using a cellphone to talk or text, but that’s only one of many causes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are three kinds of offenses: visual (such as checking a navigation system), a manual task (such as taking hands off the wheel to do something) and cognitive (anything that causes a driver to focus on anything but keeping his or her eyes on the road).

“Distracted driving is a major concern in Michigan,” said Lori Dougovito, public affairs representative for the Michigan State Police. “In 2017 alone, there were more than 20,000 crashes involving distracted driving. Seventy-two people lost their lives in Michigan due to distracted driving and 7,652 people were injured.”

Statistics show more than half of surveyed drivers believe that since automakers put new technology like infotainment screens, Wi-Fi and hands-free calling into vehicles, it’s safe to use while driving. In fact, AAA estimated one in three drivers uses an infotainment system while driving. 

Michigan law prohibits a driver from reading, manually typing or sending a text message while driving,” Dougovito explained. “Driving is defined as operating a moving motor vehicle on a street or highway. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes or other emergencies.”

According to the AAA study, doing something like checking social media on an in-car device is a complex act requiring a lot of concentration, and drivers shouldn’t do it – especially since driving requires paying attention to traffic lights, signs, other drivers and much more. 

Even a distraction of only two or three seconds can cause a crash. Experts report that even some of the hands-free devices that are supposed to lessen distracted driving can still be the cause of an accident. 

A 2017 AAA study took 30 new vehicles with some in-car tech and gauged the visual and cognitive concentration needed to operate infotainment and navigational systems. The study noted programing a navigational device took the most time, taking an average of about 40 seconds. That’s the same as driving the length of four football fields at 25 mph by what is essentially a blind driver since he or she would have been concentrating on the screen and not the road. Some automakers address this distraction issue by disabling navigation programming while a vehicle is in motion, but about half of the tested models permitted it. 

Another thing automakers are doing to help make it safer behind the wheel is adding “semi-autonomous” technology, such as crash avoidance systems like automatic braking, lane departure warnings, lane assist systems and drowsy driver warnings.

However, some drivers said they turn these warnings off because they are annoying, thus defeating the purpose of them keeping the driver safer from potential problems. Others tend to get a false sense of security due to these devices and that, too, can potentially cause a crash.

Why are new technology devices so addicting that they are such a cause for concern? The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction said using electronic devices while driving is definitely addicting, and a CNN study concurred, saying doing something like responding to a social media post or an incoming text message releases dopamine, a chemical that sends good feelings to the brain.

These days, people want the ability to remain connected 24/7, no matter if they are behind the wheel or not, a demand that can potentially cause distracted drivers who end up causing major problems or even loss of life. 

Does this mean we have to give up our new tech in our vehicles? Not necessarily. We can do things like program the navigational system before moving the vehicle or let a passenger change the channel on the radio dial. It’s our job to do our best to pay attention while driving as well as to learn to use our phones and other electronic devices responsibly.

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