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As cars become more plugged in, drivers become more checked out

Posted on in Car Accidents

In our last post we touched on the dangers that can arise from being distracted by a cellphone or other electronic device. But that hasn't stopped automakers from coming up with new reasons to take our eyes off the road.

Safety experts warn that "next-generation vehicles" allowing drivers to multitask could lead to even more car accidents. Features that were once only available in luxury models are now becoming standard features in lower-end cars. German manufacturer Daimer AG is working on technology that will allow drivers to read information on the windshield by waving a hand. Want to update your Facebook status? There's a steering wheel button for that. It's estimated that within five years, 90 percent of new cars will come equipped with Internet-connected features.

These advancements aren't thrilling officials at The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which recently proposed new dashboard technology guidelines asking automakers to ensure that the new systems are disabled once a vehicle is moving. But it would be surprising if they listened, given the race among car manufacturers to come up with technology to attract the "millennial generation" -- drivers ages 19 to 31, numbering almost 80 million. A recent survey found that 75 percent of these consumers want touch-screen technology in their cars and almost as many want apps in their dashboard.

An editor for auto information website Edmunds.com says the pressure for automakers to meet these demands is high. "There is a sense among carmakers that if they don't start presenting these kinds of vehicle systems, they will be left in the dust."

Some car companies say they're attempting to make driving safer by building features such as voice command technology. But industry and government experts are calling for more research on the safety of these features. Touch-screen dashboards require more attention than pushing buttons on a stereo because they're more sensitive and require the driver to take their eyes off the road. And even voice command features have their limitations.

"Voice controls are OK as long as you don't have an accent," says Consumer Reports' director of automotive testing, who happens to be British. "The more mental energy you are using to initiate words to make sure the system understands you, the less attention you are paying to the road."

Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Cars' connectivity seen as safety hazard," John Boudreau, Feb. 24, 2012

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