LAT: Car Tech - A Candy Store of Distraction

I don’t want a freaking computer screen with prompts I have to go through to turn on my windshield wipers to a higher speed or to engage cruise control. Just give me the knobs, wheels, slides, whatever. I’ve read too many horror stories from Tesla bros who can’t get their touch screens to co-operate on all kinds of functions, not even allowing them to search their online manual from that same screen to see how to fix the bugs.

LA Times headline: ‘We are killing people’: How technology has made your car ‘a candy store of distraction’

JULY 6, 2022 5 AM PT…

In the late 1980s, the U.S. Army turned to outside experts to study how pilots of Apache attack helicopters were responding to the torrent of information streaming into the cockpit on digital screens and analog displays. The verdict: not well.

The cognitive overload caused by all that information was degrading performance and raising the risk of crashes, the researchers determined. Pilots were forced to do too many things at once, with too many bells and whistles demanding their attention. Over the next decade, the Army overhauled its Apache fleet, redesigning cockpits to help operators maintain focus.

Cognitive psychologist David Strayer was among those called in to help the Army with its Apache problem. Since then, he has watched as civilian cars and trucks have filled up to an even greater extent with the same sorts of digital interfaces that trained pilots with honed reflexes found so overwhelming — touch screens, interactive maps, nested menus, not to mention ubiquitous smartphones. In his lab at the University of Utah, he’s been documenting the deadly consequences.


After decades of falling fatality rates, U.S. roads have become markedly more dangerous in recent years. In 2021, motor vehicle crashes killed nearly 43,000 people. That’s up from about 33,000 in 2012, and a 16-year high.


Other measures point to a much higher toll. In early 2020, the National Safety Council said cellphones were involved in more than a quarter of crashes. A poll by Nationwide Insurance shows its agents believe 50% of all crashes involved distracted driving. And safety experts say the problem has only grown worse since the start of the pandemic.


Most people know distracted driving is bad — 98% of those polled told Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety they are extremely or very concerned about it as a safety issue. But most do it anyway. More than 63% of polled drivers said they use their cellphones while driving. That increased to 73% of people who use their cars for work.