I Want My Car Simple Again

Space Shuttle Cockpit ViewToday's high tech cars have centre console mounted displays that allow anyone (including the driver) to play around with while in motion; should be against the law. Some cars even need to have the driver touch a screen to change the radio volume or station; a dangerous practice. Older car radios you can FEEL the knobs without taking your eyes off the road. I think vehicles are going the wrong direction these days with their gadgetry.

This opinion was delivered to the DriveSmartBC Inbox last week along with a wish that I would write about it so that other drivers might learn the risks. Even though in car systems are legal, they do present a significant risk for distracted driving. Manufacturers are quite happy to provide the things that we want in our vehicles even when they have not evaluated risk, or worse yet, know of the risk but choose to provide them anyway.

Probably the worst outcome from distracted driving that I was called on to investigate was a fatality where a driver was parked on the side of the highway, well to the right of the single solid white line. I'm guessing that he had stopped to have a bite to eat and enjoy the view from what I discovered inside the passenger compartment. An passing vehicle's front seat passenger had been having difficulty inserting a CD into the stereo, so the driver intervened to help. The vehicle drifted to the right, which was the direction the driver was looking in, and collided with the parked car.

Fatal Crash Victim Vehicle

The driver in the parked car did not survive the collision.

Inserting a CD into a slot in the dash is not a complicated task, but as the e-mail writer observes, using a touch screen or finding the controls on some modern vehicles can tie up your attention for a significant period of time. At 120 km/h on our freeways, one second translates into just over 33 meters of travel. A lot can happen in a couple of seconds.

As part of its Center for Driving Safety and Technology, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety commissioned the University of Utah to carry out research to address three important questions:

  1. Which task is the most demanding to complete while driving: calling/dialing, sending a text message, tuning the radio or programming navigation?
  2. What level of demand is associated with completing these tasks using voice commands, touchscreens or other interactive technologies (e.g., buttons, rotary dial, writing pad)?
  3. How does demand from these interactions vary across the infotainment systems found in different vehicle makes and models?

The findings are probably not a surprise for you:

  1. Overall, navigation was found to be the most demanding task.
  2. All tasks were associated with higher levels of cognitive demand.
  3. Of 30 vehicles tested 23 vehicles generated high or very high levels of overall demand on drivers. None of them yielded low overall demand.

The most important piece of information to take away from this is that motorists should remember that just because technologies come installed in a vehicle does not mean automaker testing has proven they are safe to use while driving.



Technology taking us backwards

This is not surprising. I upgraded my primary vehicle this year. I am not impressed with the modernized controls. Everything must be conducted through one touch information center which requires about eight screen changes to go through them all. This includes even the very basic functions associated with "normal" vehicle operation. Even changing the climate controls to defrost a fogging windscreen is cognitively challenging and is very distracting. Consumers need to send a strong message to the auto makers.


We cannot ever rely on auto manufacturers to be concerned about our safety. Seat belts and air bags were only installed as a result of legislation. I've heard it said that Henry Ford created the greatest population control in the history of man.

Let's also remember that auto manufacturers want to sell cars. Crashes mean more business for them.

Don't forget the inept legislators too. My favourite is the BC Ministry of Transportation which did studies of distracted driving and found NO DIFFERENCE between hand held and hands free devices. Yet, when they wrote the legislation, one was "legal" and the other not.  Since then, the Smart Phone has increased the distraction level several times higher.

The Federal Dept. of Transport isn't much better. It's been several years since daytime running lights were made mandatory on cars sold in Canada. But only recently is it being made mandatory to illuminate the tail lights too (Effective 2020).

Following a car with no tail lights into the Massey tunnel, especially on a bright day or if it is a dark or grey colour, it can become invisible. Truly a sphincter tightening experience. Only in the last year or so has the signage been changed from "Use Lights in Tunnel" to "Illuminate Tail Lights in Tunnel". Many don't ....  If I'm following a car with no tail lights, I'll flash my high beams twice on approach. Sometimes they get the message but often not. If not, my lights go on high beam to illuminate the reflectors but they come down again immediately if the tail lights come on. I'd rather see them than hit them. The point is, "Why wasn't the signage "Use Tail Lights in Tunnel" from day one?

Infotainment Systems in Tractor Trailers

Any concerns about similar sytems being installed in the cabs of tractor trailers?

What's the Difference?

I can't imagine that there would be any difference no matter what type of vehicle you were driving.

Distracted Tractor Trailer Drivers

Entertainment Systems

I have noticed that driving through areas with no FM radio receiption and the radio on scan that I will pick-up what sound like movies when meeting commercial vehicles. So my question is do some commercial drivers (watch)?? movies while they are driving?

Henry Ford and all

I've heard it said that Henry Ford created the greatest population control in the history of man.

Cute. Doesn't seem to be working. Anyway, my impression is there are many more horribly debilitating accidents than fatalities. Only an impression. In my work I hear all the gory details of personal injury cases. From fit and active, people become incapable of a quarter of what they used to do. Constant headaches, inability to focus, pain everywhere, dozens of doctor visits a year that don't solve the problems. I think if more people had direct knowledge of this, they'd possibly be more cautious, as I am, knowing what can happen in a split second. I'm happy to defer and let any idiot go ahead of me. Not likely to hit me if they're in front of me. And there definitely are idiot drivers out there. If you have a non-offensive term for that, sub it in there.

So, yeah, we need an equivalent of Ralph Nader (though he's still alive and well) to take on the current issues that make cars, as he said back in the 60s, "Unsafe at any speed."

Technology? Ahead of our time.

I’m 60, ride a motorcycle for 8 years, have driven since 16 (you do the math), never been in an accident, yes that’s NEVER!  Can't say it’s because all my driving skills have been perfect, I’ve even apologized to the po’d driver when I screwed up, but I still didn’t cause injury or mayhem.  I drive extremely defensivel.  The life threatening “close calls” I’ve encountered will shed the hair off the body parts.  I’ve been scared crapless to the point of having to pull over and collect my adrenaline and carry on.  I agree, too many gadgets.  I bought myself a plain Jane F150 2x4 nothing fancy, pretty basic by today’s standards, even knobs vs touch..... I love it.  Serves my purpose, keeps the eyes on the road, the work gets done & it can actually be enjoyable.


We are on the same page Leisa.  I rode for 64 years before mobility issues said "no" in 2016. Just to survive in today's traffic, a motorcyclist has to be in the top few percent of "Careful, competent" riders/drivers. I've heard many friends, after taking a motorcycle training course, say that it improved their driving skills as well. Every motorcyclist will understand that statement.

Like you, I don't want all this distractive "technology".  I'll turn the radio on to get traffic updates (Usually too late to be of any value.) and then it's off. I'd rather listen to the mechanical noise of the car or truck (Semi) to forestall problems.

But a story about motorcyclists: About 15 years ago I was sitting in a local Starbuck's when a young boy, 6 or 7. came up and said, "Gee Mister ... Are you a Hells Angel?" I asked why he would think that. "My Dad says all you guys are Hells Angels!" I asked if his Dad was there. "Yeah, at that table." I walked over and just ripped a strip off the guy. I asked what kind of a Father he was to implant such biases into his young son .... etc. etc. Being in a public place, i was careful to refrain from using more colourful language .... but I was hot. When I finished, about 4 or 5 people at the surrounding tables applauded. He apologised.

Well Done!

I walked over and just ripped a strip off the guy.

Guess that showed him that motorcyclists aren't jerks. Well done.

Automatic Shutoff

I could not agree. These new info centers should automatically shut down as soon as the car is moving, more so if if the vehicle is not your regular drive.

Nissan Pathfinder does limit actions while moving

I have a 2014 Nissan Pathfinder and while moving, the system restricts what a user can do - the voice commands still work but you cannot input a destination into the navigation system via the screen for example.  

It drives my wife crazy of course because it frustrates her when she's a passenger.  Often she wants to switch the bluetooth music source from my phone to hers, but cannot because that type of thing is restricted while the vehicle is in motion.

The basic stuff still works, like audio settings etc.



Not a problem, then.

Much better that you can control the music that's playing, eh? 

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