The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Common Sense Uncommon in Driver Distraction

November 2, 2004

Common sense should stop drivers from doing outrageous, distracting things behind the wheel — like trying to watch a movie on a dashboard-mounted DVD or going heads-down to hunt for a ringing cell phone deep in a purse, according to a recent New York Times article. But common sense is cultural, says Jeff Greenberg of the Ford Motor Company. In a multicultural society where education about driving is already shallow, few recognize the risks they take when they drag consumer electronics into their cars, reported the Times. Greenberg, who heads research at Ford into how people interact with their vehicles, spoke at the Convergence 2004 conference on future electronics, held in Detroit. Driver distraction is a huge challenge for carmakers, which are worried that a consumer backlash or government regulation might swat the lucrative market for in-car electronics. Distractions of all kinds are cited as an important factor in as many as a third of all accidents. Incidents like a July crash that killed two people on the Seward Highway in Alaska, in which a dashboard-mounted DVD player played a role, can outrage consumers and lead to state-by-state blanket bans of technology. Devices including phones, navigation systems, new music systems, video entertainment, and handheld computers are speeding into cars long before users are fluent with the technology. Car designers shudder at the thought that someone might try to watch a movie while driving, but for drivers who already think it’s all right to eat, shave, jot notes, or apply makeup at the wheel, “it’s a very small increment” to assume that there’s nothing wrong with watching “Mulholland Drive” while actually navigating Mulholland Drive, said the Times article. “My view is that there really has to be not just education, but a change in cultural attitude — not only about driving but about respect,” for the serious dangers of driver distraction, Greenberg said. Ford has developed advanced driving simulators and has developed guidelines for so-called telematics devices in cars, which the company uses in early engineering decisions. If a device or concept is too complex or overloads the driver, the guidelines reject it, even if it might make the next minivan or SUV more appealing.
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