Unlike in similar countries, the pandemic brought some bad news on the roads for the US.
Unlike in most peer countries, American roadway deaths surged during the pandemic and have barely receded since. Pedestrian and cyclist fatalities recently hit their highest levels in 40 years, but U.S. transportation officials continue to ignore key contributing factors.
One of the causes for the increased accident rate may be the proliferation of touch screen controls that can lead to more distracted driving.
As I explained in a 2021 Slate article, the trend toward car touch screens has been a dangerous one for road safety. Those who drove in the 1990s will remember using buttons and knobs to change the radio or adjust the air conditioning without looking down from the steering wheel.
Despite their name, touch screens rely on a driver’s eyes as much as her fingers to navigate—and every second that she is looking at a screen is a second that she isn’t looking at the road ahead. Navigating through various levels of menus to reach a desired control can be particularly dangerous; one study by the AAA Foundation concluded that infotainment touch screens can distract a driver for up to 40 seconds, long enough to cover half a mile at 50 mph.
“The irony is that everyone basically accepts that it’s dangerous to use your phone while driving,” said Farah. “Yet no one complains about what we’re doing instead, which is fundamentally using an iPad while driving. If you’re paying between $40,000 and $300,000 for a car, you’re getting an iPad built onto the dashboard.”
It appears that drivers are revolting against touch screens and some car makers are paying heed and going back to buttons and knobs.
The touch screen pullback is the result of consumer backlash, not the enactment of overdue regulations or an awakening of corporate responsibility. Many drivers want buttons, not screens, and they’ve given carmakers an earful about it. Auto executives have long brushed aside safety concerns about their complex displays—and all signs suggest they would have happily kept doing so. But their customers are revolting, which has forced them to pay attention.
For well over a decade, touch screens have spread like a rash across dashboards. As with other dangerous trends in car design (see the steering yoke), this one can be traced back to Tesla, which has for years positioned its vehicles as “tablets on wheels.” As a result, touch screens were seen as representing tech-infused modernity. But cost has been a factor, too. “These screens are presented as this avant garde, minimalist design,” said Matt Farah, a car reviewer and host of The Smoking Tire, an auto-focused YouTube channel and podcast. “But really, it’s the cheapest way possible of building an interior.” Although they look fancy, Farah said that carmakers can purchase screens for less than $50, making them significantly less expensive than tactile controls.
My car is ten years old. So it does not have many of the newer features that are now becoming standard, at least on cars sold in the US. Many of these are safety features such as collision avoidance alerts that tell you if you are drifting out of your lane, getting too close to the car in front, or there is a car in your rear view mirror blind spot at the moment you are intending to change lanes.
(There is way to get rid of blind spots even without the new alerts. The trick is to adjust the side rear view mirrors differently from the way we were taught, which is to adjust them so that you can just see the rear of the car when you are seated upright. Instead you sit in the driver’s seat and lean to the left until you head touches the window. While in that position, adjust the left side rear view mirror until you can just see the rear of your car. Then lean to the right so that your head is over the center console and adjust the right rear view mirror similarly. (For those countries where the driver sits on the right, just shift left and right.) Now when you are seated normally, cars that are coming up from behind on either side of you will first be seen in the center rear view mirror, and as they disappear from that they will appear in the side rear view mirror, and as they disappear from that they will appear alongside you. The blind spots have disappeared. The only catch is that when you are backing up, you cannot see the rear of the car, the way the old adjustment allowed you to, unless you lean your head to the left or right, which is awkward when you are backing up. But the rear view camera takes care of that problem.)
My car has analog displays for speed and revs/minute and also uses buttons and knobs on the dashboard and the steering wheel for controls.
The one new feature that it does have and that I really like is the rear-view camera that comes on when you are backing up. That is enormously helpful, especially when parking in tight spots.
I am not a fan of the touch screens. Fortunately my car is running fine and I hope to get many more years out of it. By the time I need to get a newer one, I hope the models have all reverted to knobs and buttons.
PZ Myers says
That sounds like our car, a 2013 Honda Fit. I think a lot of the touch screens have been added to make manufacture simpler and cheaper — I dread the day we have to get a new car.
johnson catman says
Still driving my 2004 Toyota Tundra. I hope to keep it running for a long time. Analog controls, and a bonus that the 2004 model is not the huge behemoth that trucks now are. My truck is about the size of the present day Toyota Tacoma, which is supposed to be the “compact” version of their truck.
I think PZ has it right. A couple of decades ago, give or take, a colleague on the ISO standards committee for the C programming language owned a Canadian company that made chips for the embedded systems market, e.g., the chip that turns on the dome light in your car. He once said that they’d do a run of a few tens of thousands of them just for testing the manufacturing equipment, then throw all those away. Even back then, a chip was cheaper than a switch.
My car is a 2010 Mitsubishi Galant with all the buttons and knobs and a back-up camera which, like Mano said, is extremely useful. It’s still running just fine; and now that I’m 73 years old, it’ll probably be the last car I own. 😎
Marcus Ranum says
I am going to wait until someone puts ChatGPT in charge of your driving experience.
There’s an old joke about Ken Thompson, one of the early developers of the UNIX operating system, “Ken Thompson has a car that has only one idiot light on the dashboard: a yellow question mark. Thompson says, ‘the experienced driver should know what’s wrong.'”
As an engineer with a professional interest in human interface design for equipment more hazardous than a car, I can tell you with some certainty that the engineers tasked with designing these cars will have been screaming about this to marketing and procurement departments for years… and being ignored. Look at every touchscreen in a dashboard and see it as a battle lost by an engineering department and won by a bunch of people I wouldn’t trust to know how to adjust the saddle on their own kids’ bicycle. Cost and snazziness have won out over established good engineering practice over and over again, because the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing.
Most importantly: take a walk around some NEW car lots. See which manufacturers have swallowed the Tesla Kool-aid and followed suit with an iPad instead of a dashboard. See which manufacturers have continued to design well, with tactile controls despite the fashion. Make your future purchasing decisions on this basis. Some companies do listen to their engineers. Those companies are the ones to give your money to, the ones to trust. Mark well the ones obviously run by their marketing department, and question whether you want to trust your life to a car designed by those fuckwits.
Marcus Ranum says
Most importantly: take a walk around some NEW car lots. See which manufacturers have swallowed the Tesla Kool-aid and followed suit with an iPad instead of a dashboard.
Wait ’till some car manufacturer has a digital falling out with some device maker that decides to break compatibility. What, then? I am reminded of when certain winchester drive manufacturers had falling out with the makers of their cartridges. “OOps now you can throw all our stuff away and buy new stuff.” I can’t see people putting up with that regarding a car, but Apple customers have been through some CPU and operating systems changeovers. “Buy new stuff!” Uh, yeah, I buy new stuff from someone who won’t pull that shit on me.
I can tell you with some certainty that the engineers tasked with designing these cars will have been screaming about this to marketing and procurement departments for years… and being ignored.
This engineering professor wholeheartedly endorses this point. I used to warn my students that they most likely would not be hired to come up with cool stuff that the marketing department would then try to sell. Instead, the marketing department would tell them what to make and how much it could cost.
During the many years I spent coding audio DSP algorithms, an appreciable portion of my time was spent designing and writing the user interface. Good user interface design is not trivial. The one thing that I would come across and absolutely hated was an attempt to recreate interface elements that worked in the physical world, but which made no sense on a screen. For example, why are you making a font that mimics a seven segment display? Worse, how am I supposed to use that virtual knob? A protruding knob (like a volume knob) makes perfect sense if I have to manipulate it with my fingers, but how do I “turn” it with my mouse? I have seen so many virtual oscilloscopes that do this that it makes me want to scream. In variably, they look like a knob but behave like a slider. Why not just use a slider? *
* When I would code these sorts of things, I would opt for a slider and might also include up/down arrows and/or a numeric input box, all depending on the range and precision required for the parameter in question.
Back to cars, I have a 2014 Subaru. All knobs. Heck, I have a 1992 Miata. All knobs and a plain, old-fashioned KEY. Wow. I can make a copy (cheap and small), and lace it into my shoe when I go for a run. A backup camera is nice, if only so that you can see if a child or low object is behind you, but I absolutely do not want a touch display for climate control and similar functions. I do not care about the “infotainment” center, either. I never listen to the radio in my car and will only occasionally listen to a CD if on a long highway trip. I find it to be distracting and I want full attention on what is going on around me. Besides, I actually like music, and will spend the time in an appropriate environment to listen to it actively. I don’t treat it as some manner of sonic wallpaper.
In 2005, as we were starting to see the proliferation of touch-screens in autos, I was working on automotive body control switches. I.e. these are all the buttons to control the HVAC, Radio, Headlamps, etc. My specialty was the dashlight dimmer control, which I loved because many people still don’t know that they can control the intensity of their dashlights. This is an FMVSS requirement for all vehicles to enable the dashlight brightness to be controlled. My modules had no warranty because few people even knew they were there.
But we started a little skunk-works to show OEMs that they can get the financial benefits of touch screens while still using the HMI which had been developed over the last 60 years. There are two really big advantages with touch screens as far as the OEMs are concerned, they are cheaper and they don’t have mechanical failures.
I don’t know how many people are aware of this, but the touch screens contain two different technologies. One is the display screen. The other is usually a capacitive touch sensor, usually printed on ultrathin, basically invisible, circuitry on top of the screen. It’s been a few years since I’ve worked on this, so the latest ones may now be embedded in the screen as they are built. Our idea was to get rid of the display screen entirely and use the capacitive touch technology under various molded plastic features. We had projecting knobs which didn’t move, but when you put your fingers on them and slid your fingers along it, as if you were turning the knob, we could detect the direction and speed of the movement. We had slider bars of hard plastic ledges which you could either place your fingers on to select a spot, or slide your finger along and slide the control up/down. We had LEDs behind these knobs/sliders to indicate precisely where the setting was at a glance.
This design effectively replaced the current, sometimes amazingly complex, mechanical systems with a system which felt almost the same as older mechanical switches but had no moving parts. This was both cheaper, more reliable, and suited HMI far better than touch screens. The sensitivity could be adjusted and delays put in to avoid accidental movement of the controls while a driver was fumbling to find a control without looking at it. Ford was interested in the technology and the design, and then 2008 hit and the pilot designs were shut down.
As jimf wrote above, marketing has more input on vehicle design than engineers do these days. But don’t think too badly of them, they are trying to figure out what people will want 36-48 months from now. They scry at their crystal balls (ahem, perform market surveys with leading questions), and tell the executives what features people will want in a car three years from now. The executives believe them (what else can they do?), and commit millions of dollars to advertising campaigns to make the marketing predictions come true. Vehicles are not sold based on reliability or ease of use, people who buy a new vehicle regularly make their decision based on features they will either never use or they will grow to hate. I know that sounds irrational, but it’s so very, very, human. I would say that the OEMs should rely more on the engineers to tell them what people would find convenient and comfortable to use. But, to be fair, engineers are just as human as the rest of the species.
They should make a new law: no operating your vehicle while driving!
How dare you sir.
I read somewhere that some ludicrously large number of new vehicles are bought for fleets -- i.e. the person “buying” them not only will never use the features, they’ll never even see the car, and most likely drive something considerably more expensive than the 5,000 low-end saloons they just signed a cheque for.
Now: in that last paragraph, where the word “saloon” appears, I originally typed “Mondeo”, because that was the stereotypical sales-rep-mobile a while back. Then I thought “wonder if they still make those” -- they don’t. When I checked Ford’s range, they not only don’t make Mondeos any more -- per their website, they don’t make saloon cars at all -- just small hatchbacks or “SUV/Crossovers”. So I checked Vauxhall, General Motors’ UK brand, formerly purveyors of the similarly ubiquitous Cavalier. Nope -- they don’t sell saloon cars any more. I find this incredible -- just small hatchbacks or Chelsea Tractors, nothing for someone who just wants a, y’know, CAR. Wtf has happened to the car market?
Marcus Ranum says
I have a newish Chevy Silverado which has a “volume knob” for the sound system, that just seems to register “I am rotating clockwise now” and the sound player increases the volume. As a result, you can no longer set the volume where you want it, and forget it. It’s infuriating! Some silicon valley dipshit probably thought that was a great idea.
Sounds like a simple rotary encoder. Plus side, easy to code. Down side, exactly what you mentioned! There is a relatively simple solution, and that’s to have a bunch of state variables in the flash memory of the microcontroller, but that would require a whole set of initialization routines on start-up and that just sounds like too much work, so… defaults it is!
One thing I have noticed in my wife’s car is that it takes several seconds for that system to initialize. During this time, the controller is not looking at the UI inputs. Thus, if she leaves the radio on and I start the car, it will be a few seconds before the volume knob understands that I am turning it down.
Some might accuse me of being a Luddite, but I respond that I like appropriate technology. I like what works, is reliable, and doesn’t require much maintenance. I do not like technology for technology’s sake, or change for the sake of change (like the various mutations that MS Office went through which often made me less productive, to the point where I ditched it several years ago in favor of OpenOffice). For some things, a simple potentiometer is all you want, and all you need. But sometimes, a fancy digital encoder is the hot ticket (I am thinking of some digital o’scopes we got a few years back that have “infinite rotation” knobs on them for the time base and vertical sensitivity settings. Quite nice because you can spin it fast, and you don’t have to look at the dial because the setting shows up on the bottom of the screen).
I should add that one of the things I would do in my microcontrollers class was to have the students build different kinds of user interfaces with different features for controlling a variable. One of the lab exercises involved making a simple direct digital synthesis waveform generator. There’s two things we need to adjust: the frequency and the waveform. There were three waveforms to choose from and the trick was to make a “round robin” switch (no need for an up/down pair with so few choices). Every time you hit the switch, you get the next waveform, and at the third, it would cycle back to the first. And then we would add visual feedback by lighting an appropriate LED to indicate the chosen waveform.
In contrast, the frequency setting had a very large range. We would talk about options. One of them was to use increment/decrement buttons. Simple to code, but no one wants to hit an increment button that many times. So I would show them how to code a “hold for auto-increment” function. They soon discover that, given the range of values, even that is a pain for the user. So then we introduce the “extended hold turns into increments by tens”. It was a good exercise to illustrate user interface issues, primarily because they had to look at it from the perspective of making things easier for the user instead of doing what is easy for them as a programmer (a waveform generator being something that they’ve used hundreds of times, so they know what works and what doesn’t on an intuitive level).
Sadly, user interface design (and coding) seems to be an overlooked and underappreciated area.
I picked up a Tesla in the fall of last year. I definitely didn’t get it for the touchscreen and frankly the touchscreen is in the way. I have a model 3 so I don’t have anything behind the steering wheel, it’s all on a center-mounted touchscreen. I traded a 10 year old Honda CR-Z which had plenty of real buttons.
One of the silliest things about the Tesla has been that my 10 year old CR-Z had buttons to answer phone calls on the steering wheel. It wasn’t hard to answer a paired phone in a hands-free way just by hitting one button.
Tesla in the last month or two finally integrated this functionality into their steering wheel “scroll buttons.” These are an up/down scroll wheel that also registers being pressed in and pushed left/right. There are two but one is locked to only autopilot and cruise control adjustments. In one of the most recent updates (within the last month I think) they added some ability to assign other functions to the remaining scroll button. But you have to set the default and if you want one of the other functions it requires fiddling with the scroll button while looking at the touchscreen to select the option you want from a scrolling menu.
If this sounds like they’re desperately trying to reach a better UI experience without fundamentally changing anything to eliminate the real problems… Well that’s because it looks like that’s what they’re doing to me. The insights here in both the comments and the original post seem entirely on the mark. They actually made the speed readout smaller for some godawful reason and it’s still off in a corner of the touchscreen. Nowhere else. Part of the issue with this is I think a driver actually loses most of the advantage of peripheral vision while looking off to the side like that. If you’re looking down at a traditional dashboard, depending on the design, you might still have some useful peripheral vision of what’s ahead of you. But I think you have to reorient your view to face directly ahead before reacting, plus you’re less likely to notice things coming from the driver’s side. And while you can get used to dealing with it, mostly the way to do that is to ignore it. Don’t touch the damn thing or look at it as more than a badly placed speedometer. When you first get it it’s even more distracting because previously easy things now require wrangling with the touchscreen.
Overall if they wanted to really fix this they’d probably have to include one, maybe two more versatile little widgets like the scroll buttons. But they’d have to feel different so they’d need to work differently. Give them about 5 more years and maybe they’ll figure that out.
With my former Road Safety Officer hat on: taking a call hands free impairs your driving as much as being over the UK legal alcohol limit. Calls are pretty much by definition distractions from paying attention to the road.
I’m still driving my 21 year old Volvo V70, so it’s knobs and buttons all the way. Although in the absence of dogs it really is too big for us, but we do hope to find at least one suitable teenage reprobate GSD soon. There are a lot of teeenage GSDs in rescue because people take them on as cute puppies, then realise they can’t actually handle the far larger dog they haven’t trained properly. We can handle them if they aren’t serious biters, although it helps if the rescue is honest about a dog’s problem behaviours so they don’t surprise us too much.
John Morales says
How is it different to talking to passengers in the vehicle?
Can’t say I’ve noticed any shortage of knobs in cars where I live.
Mano Singham says
I had a post back in 2015 about this that looked at the research that found that there is no safety advantage for hands-free cell phones over hand-held ones.
They also found that having another person in the car had a slightly greater safety advantage.
I suspect part of it is that someone physically in the same vehicle, is somewhat aware of what’s going on around the driver, unlike someone on the other end of a phone call. Just anecdotal, but when I’m in a car with coworkers, I’ve noticed we all tend to adjust our conversation based on the road conditions/traffic. And also tend to do things like serve as a second set of eyes, by looking around for upcoming exits, checking that lanes are clear, etc. And the non-driver frequently handles things like all the little knobs and buttons for climate control, window defogging, music, etc.
Plus, having a conversation with someone in the same vehicle, means you don’t have to manipulate a device to start/end a call, change the volume, and all sorts of other minor distractions.
As a long time pedestrian, prior motorcycle owner/operator, and current bicycle commuter, automobile owners on cellphones is one of the major threats to my safety.
First of all -- applause for Silentbob @17.
Second -- I’m sceptical of the first claim in that research in the link.
Common sense suggests that there are several additional risks to operating a handheld phone, compared with hands free.
1. A handheld phone requires me to find it, looking away from the road.
2. A handheld phone requires me to pick it up, taking a hand off the wheel.
3. A handheld phone requires me to look at it to dial, looking away from the road WHILE I have a hand off the wheel.
4. A handheld phone requires me to maintain a grip in a particular position with the hand I have off the wheel, for the duration of the conversation.
5. I can drop a handheld phone mid conversation, then have to look for it and pick it up to continue.
I’m happy to be corrected, but I can’t see what ADDITIONAL hazards there are when talking hands-free that compensate for not having ANY of the listed risks. With my handsfree on, I can keep my eyes on the road and my hands on the wheel and say “OK Google, call mum, mobile”, and the next thing that happens is I’m talking to her. I can’t drop the phone because I’m not holding it, and when she hangs up, the call is over. I never need to take my eyes off the road or my hands off the wheel.
I totally get that even doing that is more dangerous than talking to someone in the car for all the reasons given and probably more, but I find it very hard to credit that it’s as bad as handheld.
TGAP Dad says
We have a 2019 Subaru which, mercifully, continues to rely on knobs, switches and buttons for most of the expected functions, and passes off to the infotainment center the more involved functions (like pairing with a phone), and the radio.
One day while on a long trip on a very sunny day, my wife was annoyed by the dustiness of the screen, and cleaned it with a wet wipe. This threw the infotainment screen into an error state which appeared as if a manic madman with super fast reflexes was hitting the screen in random places as quickly as possible. This forced us to pull over to the shoulder -- on an interstate highway -- and search the web for how to reset the infotainment computer. Even turning off and restarting the car didn’t work. I shudder to think what the consequences would have been in a car where more vital functions had been relegated to the infotainment center.
Working as a software developer for over 30 years has given me the perspective that the biggest mistake of the Information Age was teaching the MBAs how to use computers. Given the above comments, I think my sentiment is completely justified.
@TGAP Dad, 21: I think what you saw there was possibly a feature/bug of a resistive rather than capacitative screen… or possibly the other way round, I can never remember and it’s not my area. What I do remember is early touchscreens felt different, were quite robust, but really REALLY didn’t like a drop of moisture on them. Then iPhones came along and touchscreens changed. I suspect your Subaru has on old style touchscreen.
Slightly off topic: Garmin used to make GPSs with transreflective colour screens. This was a great technology that didn’t require a backlight and only got MORE readable in bright sunshine, and used hardly any battery (I flew a whole season on one pair of AAs in my GPSMap70C). In all respects other than resolution and possibly refresh rate it was superior to competing screens… but the competition got fitted to iPhones, and everybody stopped making transreflective displays. It was the Betamax of display technologies, particularly if you had an outdoor use-case.
One of the things we did pitch to Ford in the late 1990’s was the idea of using a LED display for the console behind the steering wheel. It wouldn’t have had touch controls, but your speedometer, tach, oil-pressure, coolant temp/pressure, would all be on a LED screen.
What we pitched was the idea that with a display of this type the OEM could allow user configurable controls. If you wanted the speedometer in the upper right because the steering wheel blocked the center position, go ahead and move it to the upper right, or any convenient location for the driver. If you wanted an oil pressure gauge, you could have one, but if you only wanted an idiot light, that’s all you needed.
There are a few FMVSS requirements, like the speedometer has to always be visible, and the odometer has to be easily accessible and unable to be changed. But generally, the console can be configured in any way the OEM wants.
Further, they could create templates from classic cars for drivers to choose from. If you wanted your 2000 F150 to have the console configuration of a 1967 Mustang Cobra, they could offer that as a selection. I’m not certain why anyone would want that, but it would be great marketing.
Lastly, there could be an aftermarket fanbase of people creating their own configurations. Think of the possibilities…. Maybe Scottish Americans would like a console background with their favorite tartan? The possibilities are almost endless. Allow owners to upload a console design through their USB port in the radio, and great fun could be had. Again, FMVSS requirements would have to be met, but that shouldn’t be too hard to program the console to check to ensure those required functions are included.
Sadly, at the time displays were quite a bit more expensive than they are now and Ford was not interested.
@TGAP Dad #21,
That sounds like a hardware configuration issue. By the early 2000’s the capacitive touch ICs were getting good enough be configurable to shut down when too many inputs were being activated simultaneously. This can happen when water (like rain), a cleaner, or even a sweaty palm is pressed against the screen. This was a real problem with the early Ford external touch-activated door locks. I don’t remember if there was still a key-hole, but they didn’t have remote entry FOBs and they failed completely in a rainstorm. A lot of customer complaints about that one.
With the updated hardware, it can be set so that if too many inputs are active, it stops trying to send the outputs to the micro and waits until all inputs are cleared before resetting to accept an input. Of course, if this option is not enabled you get the results you describe.
But that may have been a deliberate choice on the part of Subaru. There are some arguments that keeping some functionality is better than losing all inputs. I don’t think they are good arguments, but it may have been a design decision for your model. Or it may have just been an oversight.
Ooh… I’ll have an LCARS dashboard! https://visualskins.com/media/p/635/lcars-v2-rainmeter-3.jpg
More seriously: user configurable controls is a terrible idea, because users are terrible at configuring controls. They think they know what they want, but they’re verifiably shit at it. Interface design is an important and difficult skill, and while I’m reasonably good at it I’m NOT an expert. I was happy to design my own interface for using on my Philips Pronto multiple remote control 20 years ago because if I suddenly lost control of my DVD player midway through the lobby shootout scene in The Matrix I wouldn’t literally die. I’d like to think that some more thought and testing has gone into the design of my car dashboard than “Hey, cool, what if I put that over here?”.
Apart from anything else -- how would the average punter TEST a new configuration, without access to a simulator or test track? Out in the wild on public roads? Fuck. That.
My mistake, which led to a misunderstanding. We were not pitching user-configurable controls, only user-configurable displays. But I never said it was a good idea, only that we pitched it as a neat, and marketable, idea.
John Morales @#16 Mano and lanir have provided answers, how much a passenger affects a driver does depend on the passeger and the topic of conversation. Try not to have a potentially strongly emotional discussion while driving or one that you will find distracting. If the passenger is also a driver they can, as lanir says be a helpful second set of eyes, but if they are your partner when you are in the middle of break-up argument maybe stop driving to have the argument more safely.
Hmm. Even displays is questionable, imho.
I flippantly mentioned LCARS, the interface for the Enterprise in Star Trek the Next Generation and DS9 and Voyager. It was a lovely bit of design, in that it conveyed an impression of simplified complexity and a consistent design aesthetic, and, crucially, it was really cheap to build. The Tech Manual talked about how crew members could configure their station to their preference, and indeed there was one post-Tech Manual episode (“Parallels” -- it’s really good) where the fact that, at a critical moment, a display that isn’t configured the way a character expects becomes a problem. All jolly funny on a TV show but in a real car? Nah, thanks.
As Jaslet@27 says says. I have not kept up with the literature but my bet is that talking on the phone has a much higher cognitive load than conversing with a passenger. You are depending on nothing but your hearing to sense subtle meanings whereas you likely have clues in body posture if nothing else with the passenger plus as Jaslet says your passenger is aware of the driving conditions.
You can drink a coffee, adjust the radio (well if you have buttons/dials) and do other things that all of which require less concentration and which you can schedule whereas once you are on the the phone you are on the phone.
John Morales says
If you’re getting clues from your passengers’ body language, don’t you have to be looking at them? They are not the road.
Probably why pilots don’t have radio communications enabled while they’re flying.
It is unclear to me whether the “(heh)” is intended to indicate that this is a joke. Even if it is, pilots flying is a ludicrous point of comparison for reasons which should be obvious to anyone with even a scintilla of sense.
So for your benefit, John, here are just some:
1. the degree of training required to become even a private pilot is considerably more onerous than that required to be allowed to drive.
2. the risk profile of an aircraft is entirely different to that of a car
3. radio communication with aircraft forms a whole specific area of training in itself and is conducted according to extremely strict guidelines. It is not idle chatter, family gossip or relationship discussions, to pick three random possibilities of the sorts of things you’d talk about on the phone in a car. It pretty much exclusively focussed on the task of maintaining the safety of the aircraft.
4. there are relatively few situations when flying an aircraft where three seconds of inattention to what’s going on outside the windscreen, or (for fixed wing aircraft) three seconds of not maintaining full hands on directional control can result in the more or less instant death or serious injury of the operator, passengers and passersby. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/2e/f6/25/2ef625671f37d649c2c70eb24030c58d.jpg
John Morales says
Hey, if you want to believe that “taking a call hands free impairs your driving as much as being over the UK legal alcohol limit.”, but chatting with your passengers is perfectly fine (or even beneficial!), go for it.
For whatever it’s worth, I mainly answer the phone in the car to check if it’s an emergency or if the call is relevant to my trio, such as the person I’m trying to meet with telling me they have to cancel at the last minute. Or a work emergency (I’ve been varying degrees of “on call” for around the last decade). If the call is worth stopping for, I do that. If it’s not, I ask if I can call them back when I arrive where I’m going. Because I do focus more on the road and have no problem whatsoever asking a calker to repeat themselves because I had to suddenly ignore them for a moment.
That said, lots of things are distracting. Louder noises and brighter lights are. That may not feel obvious but it’s how flash bangs work. They stun by taking up all your mental processing power interpreting a flood of signals. Also, I’ve been sitting behind another car at a stop light, unmoving for at least a minute when I suddenly hear the screeching if tires behind me. A nan in a sports CSR with a woman in the passenger seat had barely stopped in time to avoid hitting me. He didn’t get outnif his car but It was a convertible so I could see him yelling at me for a bit as though I’d been the one to almost cause a wreck on his road. People just don’t make sense sometimes so potential distractions are everywhere.