Today’s vehicle dashboards have turned into mobile computers with a dizzying array of distractions for drivers. This poses a safety problem say federal regulators, who want limits on the technological distractions carmakers are putting in cars and trucks. To that end, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently sent carmakers voluntary guidelines to put the brakes on visual and mental distractions.
An article in the New York Times Business Day section reports that Honda’s engineering team for the new Acura MDX luxury SUV was ‘obsessed’ with installing a record number of technology applications in the vehicle. In addition to a new high-tech engine that squeezes more miles per gallon out of each tank of gas, they’ve installed a record number of apps, maps and options for connectivity.
They also tried to make the technology less distracting by eliminating more than 30 buttons from the vehicle’s cockpit. The SUV features a number of entertainment and internet options, including connecting to a concierge who can make reservations at restaurants. It also has a voice-recognition feature that lets you use your phone or select a destination on your navigation system. The navigation system can also be manually operated, but the vehicle must be stopped to use it in order to limit distractions. Honda says the MDX represents a ‘synergy between man and machine.’
Steven Feit, a senior engineer on the MDX design team said, “We are trying to give our customers what they want in a way that’s going to be safe and make sense. That’s the balance we are trying to get to.”
Feit adds “Customers want to do other things while they are driving. And they are used to consumer electronics, like phones and computer tablets, keeping up with what they want.”
His statement begs the question as to how many things a driver can do while keeping their attention safely on the road ahead of them. Gloria Bergquist, the vice president for public affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers addresses the issue, saying that carmakers are aware of the problem and are making strides when it comes to reducing distractions, while keeping up with the technology that consumers demand in their vehicles. “We understand the stakes,” she says. “We can’t stop what consumers want in their cars, so we have to make the technology less risky to use.”
Ford has had to make numerous revisions to its Sync system to reduce distractions. The most recent modifications have replaced the Sync’s touch screen with buttons.
The NHTSA should be pleased that the Acura MDX also has computerized features that improve safety. Sensors issue alerts about potential collisions, notify drivers when they veer from their lane, and put on the brakes if they sense an accident in the works. Adaptive cruise control is another safety feature. It can bring a vehicle to a stop in the event that the vehicle in front of it screeches to a halt.
Fully automated self-driving vehicles are the natural evolution of all of these technological advancements. Automotive experts say that in twenty years, drivers will be totally free to be distracted because computers will be driving their vehicles for them.