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Letters: Adding Gas to the Distracted Driver Fire?

Increasing infotainment features in the dash can cause more harm than good

The comment made by Mr. James B. Potter in the Aug. 1 Radio World Reader’s Forum regarding driver distraction from new vehicle electronic dashboard designs is well taken and should  be on the minds of both auto manufacturers and broadcasters as well. And the front page article in the same issue, “A Peek at Tomorrow’s Car Radios,”  exemplifies what is happening to promote driver distraction even further.

If we can recall, the original purpose of the automobile was to provide transportation, which requires full-time attention to operating, not turn the car into a habitat where the driving is low priority and, instead, the driver’s attention is flooded with unrelated and often distracting trivial functions. This was borne out years ago when states started passing laws making it unlawful to have a television set in the vehicle where it was visible to the driver. And with the new LCD dash screens showing all sorts unrelated vehicle data now how does this differentiate from a TV display of years’ past?

[Read: A Peek at Tomorrow’s Car Radios]

Secondarily, I ask the question, is radio driving dashboard technology or is industry driving it? It seems that there is a continual “feature creep” underway by manufacturers to add more “bells and whistles” to a vehicle that the consumer doesn’t necessarily use or even want. This not only adds to the overall cost of the vehicle but, in relation to radio also causes the broadcaster to expend more money in an effort to keep up with what the electronics industry comes up with.

Most of my life and profession has involved electronic design engineering with a brief branch off into the world of broadcast engineering as I neared retirement (which still hasn’t happened). In prior time I had worked for one hardware manufacturer where I had to attend the marketing meetings when developing new products for consumers. In these meetings it was often asked what the company was going to give the consumer, not necessarily what they wanted. Had more consumer focus groups been established they would have found out that simple was more often desired than complicated thereby creating more favorable — and less expensive — products.

Most of us are already aware that distracted driving has become an important issue related to cellphone usage. But how is this going to play out with the addition of large colorful dashboard displays with constantly changing and sometimes complex information? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet started to realize this aspect but I am sure that we will soon start to see these statistics arise as more and more vehicles are equipped with more and more trappings of our unwired civilization.

Gregory Muir

Principal Engineer

Wolfram Engineering Inc.

Great Falls, Mt.

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