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Car technology drives distractions behind the wheel

21 October 2008

Almost half of UK motorists are seriously distracted by in-car technology whilst driving putting their safety and that of other road users at risk, according to RAC…

The motoring organisations says that 46% of more than 1,000 drivers polled found gadgets severely diverted their attention while on the road, with the figure rising to 55% among 17-24 year olds.

Although mobile phones and satellite navigation systems are often touted as the top distractions, the study found the main culprit is more familiar technology with 54% admitting they had been seriously distracted by their radio, CD or DVD player, with the 17-24 year old age group again proving the most affected (63%)

In addition, 35% are distracted by their heating/air conditioning controls, 34% are distracted by their satellite navigation - this rises to 40% among young drivers and to 49% among high mileage drivers - and 32% say their mobile phone has seriously distracted them, rising to 41% among 17-24-year-olds

David Bizley, RAC’s technical director said: “In-car technology falls into two camps - active and passive. Active technologies such as in-car entertainment are not always positive as they can cause driver distraction, while passive technologies, such as anti-locking brake systems (ABS), are undervalued as they are not fully understood or deemed less important as they come on automatically.”

RAC claims that millions of motorists are not sure what technology is fitted to their cars, and indeed, how it actually works. And as cars get more technologically complex, drivers are faced with more and more warning signals on their dashboard prompting further confusion.

As a result, RAC says that 85% of motorists believe the complexity of cars today means people need to be taught how to use in-car technology properly.

Mr Bizley said: “While these technologies have improved car safety in many respects, and improved the in-car experience of the driver, they do have their drawbacks - distracting the motorist while driving and confusing them when it comes to the number of warning signals which can be found on dashboards.”

RAC is calling for:

  • A Europe-wide code of practice to standardise the dashboard display symbols and lights. It should be made easier for motorists to understand the meaning of warning lights as well as the level of risk they face.
  • Wider use of LCD screens in new cars to provide drivers with plain English explanations of warnings and what can be done to remedy the problems
  • Car manuals to be developed and written in a more consumer friendly with downloadable quick user guides for the second hand market. Manufacturers should also ensure their warning symbols and explanations are readily accessible online, so that customers can identify problems quickly.