One of the biggest selling points in new vehicles is the in-car communication system, known as the telematics. These give today’s driver all the convenience of real time traffic information, concierge services such as travel and hospitality information, internet access, remote services and support, and emergency call services.
These systems can secure a sale, a fact that is leading car manufacturers to make them ever bigger and better. Screens in the dashboard are becoming larger, with interfaces that are more like smart phones than ever before.
This raises an issue: are interactive touch screens becoming a driver distraction that compromises safety? With drivers already banned from using mobile phones on Australian roads, do distracting dashboard screens present the same type of hazard?
Manufacturers say that dashboard screens are far safer. Because they are bigger, they are easier to use. Their ergonomic position makes them easier to use, as the driver does not need to stretch out or lean forward to view them. Also, many have integrated voice controls, which means the driver can keep both hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road.
This fails to satisfy critics, who say that the ‘added extras’, such as accommodation and hospitality details, encourage browsing rather than driving. No matter how easy the screens are to use, drivers still need to input information in order to find the answers. It is optimistic to think that all drivers will pull over in order to do so.
What’s more, some manufacturers are veering into recreational activities. Audi’s system allows the driver to check Twitter for tweets that mentions his or her name, enables photo uploading from a linked smart phone, and displays text messages that are also read aloud.
It can only be a matter of time before telematics systems become a feature of accident reports, and law-making follows. The problem is that once greater regulation is introduced, drivers may turn instead to their smart phones, which present greater dangers due to their complexity and far smaller size.
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