Why is it wrong to use phone while driving but okay to use infotainment systems?

I do not know when it is that lawmakers got into their minds that driving is a dangerous task. The thought stuck on like forest fire and it keeps raging on even today. By the end of this year, the government will make it mandatory for cars to have speed limiters. It is not just the government either, because Volvo, the famous Swedish carmaker has decided that it will limit all its cars to 180 kph or 112 mph to reduce fatalities. It is all jolly good, lesser the number of fatalities means people can be more safe inside cars, like in airliners, which incidentally have the least number of accidents and deaths to account for.

But here is the question that has been bugging my mind for quite sometime now. If safety has been given such importance, then why hasn’t the government stopped carmakers from installing touchscreen infotainment systems? Or, to be blunt, why haven’t lawmakers regulated it?

Come to think of it, people cannot speak over the phone while they are driving because it would be distracting, but somehow, it is alright for people to take their eyes off the road and fiddle around with their infotainment system. The problem has gone under the radar because earlier versions used to controlled by a swivel wheel in the centre console and there would be physical buttons that one needs to push to operate it. The thing with buttons is that we can touch and feel it, meaning our brain will know where it is present without us having to look at the buttons.

Think of it this way, we know where we to find our soap while having a bath with our eyes closed. This is something similar. But touchscreen infotainment systems on the other hand rarely have physical buttons, meaning we cannot determine where they are. Thus, people need to take their eyes off the road to use them, which is distracting to say the least.

Car manufacturers always come up with updated versions of their product, be it cars, infotainment systems or in fact anything, within a car’s lifetime. So expect new versions of a module once in every 30 months. The government on the other hand does not change its rules as fast and hence automakers take advantage of that. That is why today we see at least three digital screens in a Range Rover Velar.

In many cases, screens are not placed to make matters easy for drivers. Yes, there is the speedo that is right in front of the driver, but other screens are not present at the eyeline. At least one screen is kept low down. In the Porsche Panamera for instance, if one needs to move the airflow, they will have to access the screen for that.

Crucially, there is no law telling that manufacturers can do that and more importantly, there is no law that tells they can’t. What is worrying about this is that more screens will find their place inside a car in the near future. At least two screens will make their way into the car when mirrors are replaced by cameras. On a technological front, replacing mirrors is very good, for they ruin the airflow and impact speed and economy. But on the other hand, more screens spell bad for drivers.

It is astonishing to think that lawmakers who speak about distraction causing accidents all the time never speak about the problems that their own flawed laws create. If such systems take predominance, what is the point in asking carmakers to fit a speed limiter? Cars are becoming safe nowadays that they will take the impact and protect its occupants. A recent incident saw the Tata Tiago do just that.

The problem is that pedestrians can’t be saved when they are hit by one tonne of metal box. No matter how less the impact speed is, the damage will be done. If the emphasis is on reducing distractions, much should have been done. But, then again, we live in a world that hates fossil fuels but still uses all possible products that come out of it and can’t live without it. I’ll leave you to your thoughts.

Praveen Kumar S