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Can Interactive Systems Prevent Distracted Driving?

As state legislatures drafted laws to combat cell phone use behind the wheel, it appears as if automakers are trying to work around the limitations set forth by distracted driving laws. More cars are being introduced with interactive multimedia systems that allow drivers to check their Facebook pages, receive voice driven text messages, and control smart phones from their steering wheels.

The latest "infotainment" gizmos were on display at the annual Detroit Auto Show. On its Chevy Cruze models, GM's OnStar system would allow drivers to use voice commands to update social media pages. Similarly, BMW's Connected Drive system displays emails, call logs and text read-backs on a dashboard screen. Not to be outdone, Ford's SYNC system would allow web browsing capabilities. Automakers argue that these interactive upgrades are necessary to attract younger drivers and to compete in a changing marketplace. They also say that these "hands-free" systems are appropriate innovations in limiting cell phone use while driving.

Still, safety advocates believe that automakers are not going far enough to prevent distracted driving, and are simply trading one hazard for another. Even though they may not have a cell phone to their ear, using interactive systems could lead to "inattention blindness", the inability to react quickly to hazards because a driver's mind is focused on something else.

Further, the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Transportation did not hold its annual distracted driving summit in 2011, despite doing so in 2009 and 2010. While it is not clear whether it would be held this year, the Journal suggested that it is a sign that distracted driving regulations may not be as important in light of new multimedia systems.

Source: WSJ.com "Don't Look Now, A Car That Tweets" February 10, 2012,

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