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Banning Technology in the Car Isn't a Smart Solution

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA)

AAA’s new study on distracted driving, suggests that automakers limit integrating technology that is empowering more confident drivers. The Associated Press reports, AAA is urging “automakers to block the ability to program navigation systems...while driving.”

This view is based on sloppy research and thinking. The research is flawed and the conclusion ignores the broader benefits and safety that technology in the car – and more specifically, navigation systems and voice command – offers.

The study is fatally flawed because it doesn’t represent a national sample size. It involved only 120 drivers ages 21-36 testing 2017 model-year vehicles and most of the drivers were unfamiliar with the in-vehicle systems and required training. And with the average age of the car on the road at 11.5 years, it is fair to assume that most of the drivers in the study weren’t driving 2017 models for personal use and weren’t entirely comfortable with the tested car models.

Even the reporting on the study was sensationalized. The AP story distorts the truth about 2017 models by suggesting, “Some vehicles now have as many as 50 buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard that are multi-functional.” But none of the cars tested had 50 buttons.

The study also ignored the safety benefits of these same technologies. At any given moment, some 660,000 drivers could be distracted by using a smartphone or manipulating electronic devices. Drivers’ use of technology while driving can be a real problem - their priority must be paying attention to the road. But the technology in today’s cars is eliminating the need for a driver to look at a piece of paper for directions or worse, scroll on their iPod to find their favorite song.

The AAA study misses a key point about in-vehicle communication and safety systems which is more and more carmakers are making it simpler to use these solutions. Instead of developing in-house apps for car models, many manufacturers are allowing systems to mirror their smartphones, minimizing the task of inputting information on a touchscreen, which is precisely what AAA recommends to automakers.   

Finally, the best way to address distracted driving is to accelerate adoption of self-driving cars.

Self-driving technology will transform the future of mobility by removing human error – the cause of 94 percent of all car crashes - improving road safety and, most importantly, the potential to save an average of 35,000 lives a year in the U.S.

In fact, driver-assist technology – accessible through screens - is already saving lives. Results of an IIHS research study indicate that “lane departure warning lowers rates of single-vehicle, sideswipe and head-on crashes of all severities by 11 percent and lowers the rates of injury accidents of the same types by 21 percent.” So, if all those passenger vehicles had been equipped with lane departure warning, nearly 85,000 police-reported crashes and more than 55,000 injuries could have been prevented in 2015.

And according to CTA research, the popularity of driver-assist technology already available to consumers is sky-high. Almost all consumers (96 percent) like or love automatic parking-assist capabilities, and 94 percent feel the same about collision avoidance systems. Perhaps most indicative of this sector's potential, half of all non-users want to upgrade to driver-assist technologies.

So the answer to the challenge of making our roads safer isn’t banning technology in the car, but improving it for drivers and looking toward the future.