Are Automakers Magnifying Distracted Driving Risk?

As lawmakers and safety advocates are raising the alarm over the danger of distracted drivers, major auto manufacturers are working to increase the wealth of entertainment and information options available on your car's dashboard.

With all of the attention paid in the past year to auto accidents caused by distracted drivers, most of the focus has been on the use of cell phones and other handheld devices while behind the wheel. Several states have passed laws banning certain actions - such as sending or receiving text messages - or requiring a hands-free device for cell phone use.

Although Ohio does not currently have a statewide hands-free requirement or texting while driving ban, the state does allow localities to pass their own laws regarding the use of personal electronic devices while driving. The Ohio legislature is currently considering a number of proposed distracted driving laws, each of which would attempt to cut down on distracted driving accidents by enjoining or limiting what drivers may do.

With all of this focus on the danger of drivers who read e-mails or text while driving, however, the role of automakers in distracted driving accidents seems to have been ignored.

Electronic in-dash systems are not new: Built-in navigation and entertainment systems have been optional on upscale vehicles for several years. According to research done by the New York Times, however, technology like this will soon be standard equipment on many vehicles - and the possibilities for distraction only begin there.

As the Times reported, last month's Consumer Electronics Show saw demonstrations of video screens mounted above the gearshift on which drivers could surf the Web, watch a movie or interact with a 3-D map.

Later this year, Audi will launch a redesigned A8 sedan with a touch pad - much like that found in the iPhone, for example - which will allow drivers to interact with the vehicle's navigation and telephone system by tracing letters on the dashboard.

Intel has announced plans to develop and launch the Connected Car PC, which they claim will act like a fully functioning personal computer in the car. The in-car PC will be able to relay to the driver navigational advice, stock quotes, traffic reports and e-mails. Microsoft has also announced plans for the AutoPC, a similar system that will be more limited in its applications.

Safety advocates have deemed this push by automakers to increase the amount of information bombarding the driver as irresponsible. As the technology flourishes and the costs for in-car entertainment and information packages decreases, without government intervention it is unlikely that car companies will alter their strategy any time soon.

If you have been injured in an accident caused by a distracted driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.