Multimedia devices designed for safety increasing distracted driving?

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SALT LAKE CITY -- The big thing now in the car industry is a new wave of technology and built-in media features. But the ability to update Facebook while you drive has its critics.

At what point do technology and built-in features become more a distraction than a safety tool? It's a question that impacts every Utah family, especially if you haven't seen what's in the dashboard of many new cars.

This technology will be in everything in a real short time.

–Jeff Miller, Larry H. Miller Ford


Right now, many Utahns are addicted to multimedia and multitasking.

"I like having my phone with me," says Bingham High School student Dalton Fackrell. "When I don't have it, I just feel naked or something."

Whether talking, texting, fiddling with buttons or touch screens, they do it all while driving a car.

"I think pretty much every kid texts and drives," says Josh Smith, also a student at Bingham High School.

Talking and texting, though, are just the beginning:

  • The latest Ford Edge can take up to 10,000 different voice commands
  • General Motors' OnStar system will allow drivers to update Facebook accounts
  • Ford's Sync feature will read e-mails out loud
  • Mercedes offers a split screen for passenger movie viewing
  • BMW has a search engine so drivers can check stock prices

"This technology will be in everything in a real short time," says Jeff Miller, commercial fleet manager at Larry H. Miller Ford in Sandy.

With the new bells and whistles on cars, it's just a couple more things that can become a distraction.

–Marc Jensen, drivers' ed instructor


The car industry argues this technology will keep people safer by keeping their hands on the wheel. Others, like Bingham High drivers' education instructor Marc Jensen, disagree.

"With the new bells and whistles on cars, it's just a couple more things that can become a distraction," he says. "Trying to multitask while you drive probably isn't a good idea for new drivers -- probably isn't a good idea for any drivers."

At a distracted driving summit last month, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation threatened to impose requirements on built-in media unless the car industry regulates its own features and puts safety before entertainment.

Car dealers say they're just keeping up with what consumers want.

"You don't have to use that technology if you don't want to," Miller says. "This is still an automobile that will take you from A to B."

To stay safe, consider these numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation: Last year, 500,000 Americans talked or texted their way into car crashes that ended up killing 5,500 people.


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