In past blog posts, I have discussed the future of in-vehicle technology, highlighting the looming problem of dashboard-mounted screens with Internet access and interactive controls that will transform distracted driving from a teenagers- texting problem to a mainstream adult driver phenomenon.
The future his here, according to the October 2011 edition of Consumer Reports, in an article called, “Connected cars: A new risk.” The article details the installation in 2012 model cars of dashboard screens with complicated controls that plainly require drivers to take their eyes off the road. (The claims of manufacturers that these systems are exclusively or predominantly voice-activated are simply not accurate.) The predictions in the CR article are positively frightening: Said one technology expert, “Within five years, 90 percent of new cars will ship with connected car features.” In addition, “In-car technology is quickly becoming integrated into broader infotainment and navigation systems.” And finally, my personal favorite: “It’s a battle between safety and marketing.”
Can someone please explain to me why we are debating safety vs. marketing?
But let us consider the implications of the addition of these new technologies on teen drivers. I can think of no positive ones, but here are a few negatives: Adult supervisors engaging in more and more acts of technological distraction while driving will only make adults less worthy role models for teens. If a parent surfs the Internet for a restaurant while driving, how can that same parent warn a teen not to text while driving? Second, we will now have teens being trained in cars that have these advanced, more distracting technologies, which can only detract from the training. In other words, distracting technology will become integrated into driver training, which cannot be beneficial. Third, we need to remember that teen drivers, due to their incomplete brain development and their inexperience, are even more susceptible to the distractions of these in-car technologies; while auto manufacturers may have adult drivers (who are willing to pay to make their cars mobile hot spots) in mind, the fact is that teens will drive these cars, and these new technologies are sure to undermine safe teen driving efforts.
So, as the sophistication, pervasiveness, and distraction of these new systems grows, the additional cautions for parents include:
- when you buy a new car with a dashboard-mounted screen and interactive features, consider whether that car is safe to train your teen and safe for him or her to drive;
- consider whether these systems have deactivation features, such that you as a parent can be sure that teen drivers will not use them; and
- if your teen is likely to drive a “connected car” (a useful phrase – thank you, CR), your parent-teen driving agreement should be even more direct and detailed about rules using any of these features (for example, the agreement should say, point blank, that “At no time will the teen driver use in interactive Internet feature of the car’s dashboard”.)
Parents need to bear in mind that technology that is convenient for them may constitute a substantial new danger for a teen driver.