Is your car driving you to distraction?

Blog post posted on 28/02/23 |

Technology in cars is not a new thing. Assisted breaking, cruise control and mobile connectivity has been making our car journeys easier, but when does it become too much?

Is the modern touchscreen a huge step backwards in terms of safety and distracted driving compared with the buttons and switches of years gone by?

While many have argued that touchscreens encourage drivers to put down their phones, they require a driver’s attention in a way that old-fashioned buttons don’t. 

Trying to strike the perfect balance between car and driver interaction has IAM RoadSmart’s  Chief Examiner Richard Gladman concerned.

“The tech that keeps me in touch with my office and work is fantastic when I’m parked up in Sainsbury’s car park, but when I’m driving down the motorway, I shouldn’t really care whether I can get an email or a teams call.

If I’m working out in my brain who I need to reply to or speak to that is a distraction when I should be concentrating on the road.”

Swedish car manufacturer, Lynk & Co recently announced the inclusion of Microsoft Teams in its vehicles, meaning you can now take your meeting on the road. It may be safe when parked up, but the effort to concentrate on what is being presented in a meeting may mean some drivers taking their focus off the road.

When giving presentations on responsible driving, Richard says he has a go too question.

“I always ask, who in the room has missed a motorway junction? Was it whilst you were on a handsfree telephone call, and it is amazing how many people say yes.

“You were warned at a mile, half a mile, you have 3…2… 1. countdown markers to the biggest exit board in the world, you missed all of that and you knew where you were going, and you were using your sat nav. All that stuff you saw on the way down there could have been something that saved yours or somebody else’s life.

“If you take a phone call and you say, ‘yeah, I’m driving, I’ll call you back in 5, 10 or 15 minutes’, you’ve technically dealt with it but if you start discussing what the call is about and you get involved in it straight away, the main purpose of your concentration becomes the call.”

So, is it time for the car companies to take responsibility?

Richard thinks so but worries it is more about the competition between car manufacturers than safety.

“What they are doing now is integrating all the systems in the car within that entertainment module. So instead of having a button which turns everything on and off if you want to change your setting, you must go into a menu and then a sub menu. If you are doing it while driving, then it takes a massive amount of concentration, and you should not be doing it. “

Richard points to BMW who, when they released the i13, had a group of tech savvy youngsters in the showroom who learnt all they could about the smart screen and its apps.

Richard also believes our vehicles technology should also be able to warn us of upcoming distractions on major routes, like smart motorways. A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas.

However, the Department for Transport (DfT) has been forced to pause the rollout of all-lane smart motorways entirely amid increasing safety concerns.

Richard uses the Red X, which shows a lane closure up ahead, as an example: “As you were driving towards it, wouldn’t it be good if that infotainment screen came up with a great big red X and told you to move lane. Why isn’t the car capable of doing that? That’s useful information.”