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Infotainment vs distraction: Automakers send mixed messages

Consumer Reports News: September 23, 2011 02:23 PM

Mobile electronics are enabling great infotainment advances in cars, but consumers are faced with a mixed message. Automakers are offering smart phone integration that enables information on the go and even social networking from behind the wheel. They are also launching safety campaigns aimed a curbing distracting driving—at the same time they are engineering many distractions into today’s cars.

FairWarning, a non-profit organization focused on public-interest journalism, has posted an interesting article exploring this dichotomy. In the story, FairWarning cites numerous examples of how the same automakers that are racing to introduce new, electronic features are at the same time trying to encourage safe behavior.

We explored this phenomenon in our October issue story, “Connected cars: A new risk.” Like FairWarning, we spoke with numerous industry, academic, and government officials to explore all sides of the issue. Reading both stories provides a good education on the issues.

The research is clear: Distractions of any kind increase roadway dangers, and people truly are being victimized due to drivers texting and doing other activities behind the wheel.

Automakers are in a tough spot, in that consumers are looking for more convenience and connectivity, but the challenge remains addressing those needs while preserving, or preferably enhancing, automotive safety.

As we have found in our own tests, systems such as the myFord Touch can render even common functions more complicated and having redundant push-button controls cannot mitigate the dangers in navigating multi-layered, touch-screen functions.

The Department of Transportation stance is that cars are for driving and distractions take lives.

As more research is conducted to better understand the nuances of distractions, there may be ways to balance convenience and safety. In the end, it comes down to the driver to make smart choices.

Consumer Reports says, hang up and drive. And if your car has complicated controls, be sure to make adjustments before hitting the road.

While Assailing Driving Distractions, Automakers Pack in Tempting Gadgets
Connected cars: A new risk
Guide to distracted driving

Jeff Bartlett

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