Dash Distraction

By Kristen Castillo

August 11, 2017 5 min read

When you think about distracted driving, you probably think about drivers using their phones while on the road. But these days, phones aren't the only diversion in the car. That's because new car dashboards are full of distractions.

Some dashboard systems have a one-touch setup, with many buttons and controls. No matter the design, these modern systems are both helpful and a hindrance.

*Proceed With Caution

"There's all kinds of stuff going on on the big screen, which is like a huge iPad in the middle of the dashboard," says Dan Nainan, a comedian who drives a Tesla Model S, explaining that in addition to the big screen, the vehicle also has a screen with a speedometer, as well as another small screen.

Nainan, who calls himself a proud Tesla owner, says he's careful when driving, glancing only occasionally at those screens when he needs the information. "All I have to do is think about the consequences of being too distracted and getting into a crash, and that works for me," he says.

*Smart Tech

These smart dashboards display all the info drivers might need, including navigation, radio, air conditioning and incoming phone calls and messages and more.

Still, all that data can be overwhelming for drivers. That's what happens to drivers in virtual distracted driving scenarios.

Drive Square Inc., a driving simulator company, has an in-vehicle driving simulator to show drivers how a smart user dashboard can be sidetracking.

"When the individual is driving in the simulation mode, we ask the driver to perform a multitude of tasks," says David Gauer, the company's director of sales and marketing. "Almost 99.9 percent of the time, the driver ends up veering off of the road or resulting in a motor vehicle accident."

The mock scenario obviously isn't real but drivers and passengers get the message.

*Tricky Technology

"Driving distracted is a choice and it is a selfish one at that," says Jessica Hoerman, who works with EndDD.org, an end distracted driving campaign," noting while dashboards have lots of cool tools, "It is up to the driver to decide if making the selfish choice to take your focus off the road is worth it."

EndDD.org was started by Joel Feldman, after his 21-year-old daughter Casey, a pedestrian in a crosswalk, was struck and killed by a distracted driver in 2009. That driver was reaching for a drink in the center console at the time of the crash

Hoerman says smart dashboards are a "tricky subject."

That's because up until recently, the message about distracted driving was fairly straightforward -- unplug while on the road. But that's getting harder to do since modern cars integrate all the technology from cell phones and more right into the vehicle.

Putting your phone in your bag while driving used to be a good option. Not anymore. "That doesn't work when your car functions as well as your phone," says Hoerman.

While the "out of sight/out of mind" technique doesn't work for a smart dashboard, the principal of safety is the priority.

Distracted driving is "no different than texting, eating or doing anything else that takes your eyes and brain off of the task at hand -- which should be driving," says Hoerman.

*Smart Simplicity

Even with a smart car interface, drivers can streamline their use of technology.

If you're syncing a music app or a podcast on your phone to your car or even just listening to the radio, choose the station or the app before you buckle up. Then fight the urge to change channels -- the momentary diversion isn't worth the risk.

While your navigation will get you where you want to go, looking at the map can take your eyes off the road. Another gadget can work in tandem to keep you focused.

"It may seem counterintuitive to add yet another distraction to the mix, but, the iWatch has a vibration mode that tells you when to turn or when you are approaching your destination," says Hoerman.

Turn off notifications on your phone so you're not getting updates on messages, social media posts or incoming emails. There are many programs that can help drivers shut off notifications, says Hoerman, who uses AT&T Drive Mode when she's driving.

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