Climb into any car in the (nearly) the 2020s and you’ll find a plethora of cutting edge digital technologies. So many, in fact, that it’s easy for the less than tech-savvy to become bamboozled. While much of the tech in today’s cars is at work behind the scenes, quietly keeping us safe and alert on the road, interfacing with much of it can be a head-scratcher to those who are not technology natives.

As digital technologies become more and more ubiquitous in our vehicles, it begs the question of when these technologies become more of a distraction than a benefit. If drivers end up misusing them because they are unsure of how they work or, worse still, spend more time tinkering with them than keeping their attention on the road the results can be disastrous.

Given that the raft of luxurious on-car features can quite literally drive us to distraction, should drivers be given more tech support for modern cars.

Propensity for human error

The ubiquity and complexity of today’s in-car technology certainly has the potential to save lives. But it can also increase drivers’ propensity for human error. According to a recent study in the US, driver error is the biggest contributing factor to 80% of traffic collisions.

As this article by Scrapcar Network indicates, the fact that human beings are prone to misjudgments which can prove disastrous on the road is one of the major arguments in support of autonomous vehicles. After all, computers can’t get tired or distracted and self-driving vehicles can communicate via much more elegant means than honking at one another while filling their cabins with clouds of profanity.

Given that autonomous vehicles are a way away from widespread use, an argument could be made that without proper training to use in-car tech effectively, distracted drivers could account for even more avoidable accidents on the road.

Cognitive demands

Aside from newly minted drivers, most of us operate our vehicles with very little conscious thought. Driving has become so quotidian for us that it becomes a matter of instinct. As such, we can dedicate more of our attention to hazard perception and awareness of other vehicles, pedestrians, wayward animals and the myriad other potential hazards between us and our destination.

But when we need to manage the business of driving alongside navigating the infotainment system, changing the speed for the Adaptive Cruise Control and twiddling our way to an optimal temperature, this adds significantly to our cognitive load.

Studies have already established that texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving. It’s fair to assume that the cognitive demand associated with using most in-car tech is at least equivalent to that of sending a text message.

Safety through understanding

The impressive technologies behind today’s cars are still in their relative infancy. As yet there are no definitive studies to ascertain whether a tech-savvy driver is less at risk than an avowed technophobe. Nonetheless, it stands to reason that drivers are much better placed to use in-car tech safely when they understand it better.

But to whom will the task of educating the masses to fall? Should governments be keeping a closer eye on the safety challenges presented by technologically loaded vehicles? Should manufacturers take greater steps to educate their customers on how and when to operate in-car tech safely? Should sales professionals be required to give customers a tutorial on in-car features before they drive away?

There are no easy answers and all of the above will invariably have higher priorities.

We don’t need no education

Of course, there will also always be those who are resistant to being told how to operate their new vehicles. The unconsciously competent mind rarely relishes an opportunity to be taken back to school and some may resent the implication that instruction or tuition is required. Even if they end up endangering their own safety as a result.

Still, as long as these technologies are at work in today’s vehicles (and why would manufacturers abandon any potential selling point?) it behooves drivers to take the time to familiarise themselves with their in-car tech and exercise prudence when operating it.

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