Critics call infotainment screens unsafe, carmakers say they’re the only way

Ford Sync 3
Smartphones have made distracted driving the automotive safety issue of our day. To combat it, carmakers have worked to integrate smartphone functions with onboard infotainment systems.

They claim that looking at dashboard screens and using touchpads, voice controls, and steering wheel mounted buttons is much safer, and that if these features didn’t exist, people would go right back to using their phones while driving.

Some safety-conscious critics aren’t convinced, though. As more complex infotainment system proliferate and cars continue to meld with phones, calls for stricter regulations on this tech aren’t quieting, according to Reuters.

“You can’t be looking at a screen and be looking at the road at the same time,” David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah who has written several studies on distracted driving, told the news services. He believes current systems require drivers to take their eyes off the road for too long.

But carmakers, including Audi spokesperson Mark Dahncke,  still maintain that their systems are better than actually picking up a phone while driving, and that drivers will definitely do just that in the absence of an alternative. That reasoning is behind ongoing efforts to increase the amount of smartphone content projected onto dashboard screens.

Unlike virtually every other part of a new car, the operation and design of infotainment systems is subject to fairly few regulations. Certain states do prohibit playing non-navigational videos while driving, and there are a handful of Federal regulations, including one stipulating that screen brightness be adjustable, but that’s about all.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does have a set of voluntary guidelines. These dissuade carmakers from displaying images or videos unrelated to driving, and indicate that drivers shouldn’t have to use controls more than six times to complete a task, among other recommendations.

The car industry also has its own set of voluntary guidelines that are in some cases less strict than the government’s. While the government advises that a driver should be able to complete tasks with a series of glances at a screen totaling no more than 12 seconds, the industry guidelines allow 20 seconds.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter, though, since carmakers are under no obligation to comply with either set of guidelines.

One group that seems remarkably unconcerned with this issue is the insurance industry. While your premiums may go up if your car has the word “sport” in its name, a larger infotainment screen won’t raise them, the Insurance Information Institute says, unless it’s deemed valuable enough to be a theft risk.


Self-driving, electric, and connected, the cars of CES 2019 hint at the future

Car companies remained surprisingly quiet during CES 2018. But they spoke up in 2019. From electric hatchbacks you can buy in 2019 to super-futuristic mood-detecting technology, here are the major announcements we covered during the event.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.

Need to combine a PDF? Here's how to get it done on both Windows and Mac

Sometimes juggling multiple files at once is more of a hassle than a convenience, especially when a single file would do. This quick guide will teach you how to combine PDF files on Windows, MacOS, or with online tools.
Emerging Tech

Look forward to your morning commute with one of the best ebikes available

A proper ebike is perfect for commuting or a trek along the trailhead, with most offering pedal assistance and a long-range battery. As more brands offer their own take on this innovative way to get around, it's hard to distinguish the…

Fast and Furious fans get revved up: Toyota’s Supra sports car is back

The 2020 Toyota Supra made its long-awaited debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The resurrected sports car, famous for a role in The Fast and the Furious, goes on sale in the U.S. this summer.

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.

Big tech, bigger grille: BMW updates its 7 Series flagship for 2020

The BMW 7 Series will enter the 2020 model year with a host of updates inside, outside, and under the sheet metal. The new-look nose with a jumbo grille hides updated engines, while passengers benefit from smart tech features.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.

In McLaren’s 600LT Spider, the engine is the only sound system you’ll need

The McLaren 600LT Spider is the inevitable convertible version of the 600LT coupe, itself a lighter, more powerful version of the McLaren 570S. The 600LT Spider boasts a 592-horsepower, twin-turbo V8, and a loud exhaust system to hear it…

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.

Ford has a plan to future-proof the hot-selling F-150 pickup truck

Worried about the threat of rising gas prices, Ford will add the F-150 to its growing portfolio of electrified vehicles. It is currently developing a hybrid F-150, and it will release an electric version of the next-generation truck.

Ford’s Mustang-inspired electric crossover will spawn a Lincoln luxury version

Lincoln will get its own version of parent Ford's first mass-market, long-range electric vehicle. While Ford's version will have styling inspired by the Mustang, Lincoln will take a more traditional approach.
Home Theater

Spotify adds simplified Car View mode for Android users

What was once just a test is now a reality: Spotify is rolling out a new, simplified in-car user interface for all Android users called Car View, which automatically engages when the app detects a car Bluetooth connection.

Boutique carmaker Karma Automotive, legendary design firm Pininfarina team up

Karma Automotive is partnering with legendary Italian design firm Pininfarina on future luxury cars. The first product of that partnership will appear later this year, Karma said, without offering other details.