Gone are the days of simple dashboards. What once was quite basic—climate controls, audio features, and a small handful of other options—has progressed into oversized sophisticated dashboards equipped with a multitude of features, including smart technology that allows the vehicle to interact not only with occupants but other devices as well. Although designed to improve safety, many question whether incorporating what is essentially a mini-computer mounted to the vehicle’s dash has actually done just the opposite—increase accident risk factors, rather than reduce them. As personal injury lawyers, we can’t help but ignore the dangers associated with the increase of vehicles equipped with these so-called ‘smart dashboards.’
One of our biggest safety concerns with smart dashboards is their overall complexity and difficulty in use. Learning how to operate specific in-dash features can be quite intimidating, not only for novice users, but even for persons that may be more ‘technologically-inclined.’ Unfortunately, many motorists attempt to undertake the task of initially familiarizing themselves with their smart dashboards while they are actually operating the vehicle.
However, the dangers of smart dashboards extend far beyond distractions created by learning basic function while the vehicle is in use. The functional capabilities offered by these systems is astonishing, and knowing how to operate them, doesn’t make using them any less distracting. Anything that diverts a driver’s attention from the task of driving, whether manually, visually, or cognitively, is highly risky. While distracted driving is more commonly associated with texting, operating a smart dashboard is equally, if not more dangerous.
Consider the ‘phone-sync’ option, which has become a fairly ubiquitous feature in new vehicles, and allows the driver to access functions and perform tasks in a manner similar to as if they were using their phone. Although automakers contend that large touchscreens and voice controls make smart dashboards a safer alternative, as car accident lawyers, we find little variation between using a mobile device through a vehicle and using the actual device. Regardless of any reduction in visual or manual distractions, phone syncing does nothing to reduce cognitive distraction, and moreover, may even encourage the use of mobile devices, which in turn may lead to more motorists that drive distracted.
Despite the rise in vehicles equipped with smart dashboards, which the auto industry argues are intended to reduce distraction, crash data has consistently shown a steady increase in distracted driving accidents in recent years. Though there are many ways in which crashes occur due to driver distraction, research indicates that the core problem resides in the use of mobile devices. This is why cell phone use is restricted in some form or another in nearly every state. If the goal is to reverse current trends, then we do not see how smart dashboards, which are essentially just a larger version of a mobile device with a few added safety features, will make the type of impact that automakers expected.
As automakers seek to attain consumer satisfaction, and technology continues to improve, the safety issues associated with smart dashboards will likely become even more problematic in the coming years. Even manufacturers that once produced automobiles considered to be relatively simplistic economical vehicles, such as Hyundai or Kia, have responded to consumer demands, and now offer models with standard or optional smart technology features.
Some say the solution is more stringent federal regulation over automakers that produce vehicles equipped with smart technology. Specific legislative remedies include rulemaking that limits the number of glances, seconds per glance, and total time required to complete a task. While both the auto industry and government have guidelines that address these task-completion factors, compliance remains voluntary. Consequently, unless or until lawmakers intervene, the design and manufacture of smart dashboards will remain in the hands of automakers that design and manufacture such vehicles, as well as the motorists that operate them.
If you or a loved one were involved in a car accident that you believe was caused by the negligence of another person or entity (i.e. government; automaker), the Chicago attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. can evaluate your matter, free of charge, and explain potential sources and means of obtaining financial compensation for the harm you’ve suffered.