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Infotainment systems increase driver distraction

Before cellphones and other mobile devices became such an integral part of most lives, people thought nothing of reaching for the knob on the car radio or adjusting the heat or defroster while driving. Those actions may seem second-nature to you now, and you may not even realize you have done it. In fact, you may no longer need to reach for your car's console to satisfy your needs.

As automobiles become smarter, you can do much more with the touch of a finger. Gone are the days of fumbling with impossible paper maps or pulling over to use a pay phone. You can do many things from the comfort of your car. However, safety advocates are increasingly concerned about the growing number of distractions behind the wheel of your car.

Technology advances faster than safety

Drivers continue to text and use their devices to access social media and entertainment apps. You may be guilty of this. To combat the deadly distraction, car manufacturers are refining the technology in their vehicles, creating infotainment systems that combine the best features of a cellphone with vital information at your fingertips. Some of the options your new car may have include:

  • Voice control to allow you to text or make calls
  • Limitless music capabilities
  • Climate control
  • Writing pads
  • Dash cams
  • Navigation systems
  • Touch screens
  • Heads-up displays with 3-D computer images on your windshield

Options like these may make a vehicle attractive to a car buyer, and some of them do add a component of safety. However, is having the world at your fingertips really less distracting than texting?

When AAA's traffic safety advocacy team tested new model cars last year, they watched as drivers looked away from the road over and over to adjust elements of the vehicles' infotainment systems. In fact, no matter how advanced and hands-free the technology was, drivers still had to take their eyes away from the road and their hands off the wheel to make selections on the systems. Programming a destination into your GPS, for example, may take your attention for 40 seconds as your car continues to move forward.

How much entertainment do you need?

Some new cars contain up to 50 buttons on the control panels and steering wheels. Pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration caused many car manufacturers to include automatic locking of some high-tech features when the car is in motion. However, this is a voluntary gesture, and some vehicles do not have such safety features. Studies show that danger is not limited to the time a driver takes his or her eyes from the road as much as it is the attention the gamut of infotainment technology demands.

You may understand first-hand how treacherous it is to be on a Tennessee road with a distracted driver if you have been the victim of a car accident that resulted when another driver was adjusting some infotainment feature. While the latest gadgets and gismos on your dashboard may be enticing, they are not a fair trade for the pain and suffering following an accident.

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