OPINION ➤ Driven to Distraction : The real dangers
By Wayne Gorrett
Distractions. They’re everywhere – and no less so than in our cars.
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Children incapable of entertaining themselves, gum-thumping mothers-in-law that purportedly mean well, and an overly friendly family of spiders – now in its fifth generation – that long ago declared the inner machinations of both my side mirrors to be their seaside homes.
With a myriad of things demanding our fleetest of attentions both in and outside our cars, it’s a major miracle that most of us complete our journeys as safely as we do.
Stretching the odds further against a safe arrival is the current trend creeping into our driving environment.
Manual controls…you know the ones, those simple dials and knobs that control heating and cooling and other basic functions. We reach out to them intuitively as we tootle along, making minor tweaks to our inner sanctums. Usually, we do this without taking our eyes off the road – because, instinctively, we know where they are…or used to, anyway.
My job requires the reviewing of hundreds of new cars a year. I have noticed with increasing concern, that a number of manufacturers have decided, for the sake of fashionable, clutter-free interiors, to incorporate HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) and other basic controls into the ubiquitous LCD screen, several ‘touch-layers’ deep. In a few cars, there exists more than one screen to distract us.
The law prohibits us from making or receiving calls in our cars with hand-held devices, and rightly so. But if we’re really honest with ourselves, even when hands-free and (currently) legal, our attention and concentration is not fully on the road. Why then, are these simple everyday controls being made inaccessible and awkward to use instinctively.
I made a career in board-level marketing and PR, so I know only too well how critically important it is to be ‘different’, to find that certain je ne sais quoi that sets one’s products or services apart from those offered by one’s competitors. In the fast-moving automotive world, the competition is fierce and any competitive and marketable USP will sell cars – and lots of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the fuss-free driver environments that result from this trend – particularly in the new 308 from Peugeot. It’s the heightened risk and eroded safety factor I have an issue with.
Perhaps manufacturers could revisit this and find other, safer ways to be different. Significant strides have been made in voice-activated systems such as telecommunications, navigation and others. Could such efficient technology transfer seamlessly to climate controls and the like?
I don’t have the answer but I do want to encourage debate within the car manufacturing industry and it’s markets. I sincerely hope that the good chaps who make the great cars we drive these days find a safer solution…and soon.