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Driver Information Creates Dangerous Distraction for Modern Cars

In a study commissioned by the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE), it was found that vehicles are using increasingly large amounts of their computer processing power to keep drivers entertained, informed, and comfortable, which is leading to more vehicle distraction.

A longtime Honda engineer at the Marysville (OH) factory explained, “In the 1980s, it was a pretty simple formula: A single-zone manual climate control system, a radio/cassette player, and that was about it. The rest of the car could focus on fuel injection, headlights, electrical system, and so on.”


Speaking anonymously, the engineer continued, “But in 2018, it’s not that simple. Cylinder deactivation, ten-speed transmissions, direct injection, dual- and triple-zone automatic climate controls, head units with Bluetooth, USB, CD, DVD, even hard drives. Plus the car has to navigate, respond to voice controls, heat and cool the seats, brake automatically, monitor blind spots…it’s overwhelming, even with additional processors helping.”

Consumer demand has fostered the inclusion of many of these features, which have progressively made their way from luxury cars into mainstream vehicles from virtually every manufacturer. Although consumers drove for nearly a century without such accoutrements, by the mid-2000s these features had almost become an entitlement to most buyers.

17% of car camera-based accidents are based on staring at rear end of the Audi A7
17% of car camera-based accidents are based on staring at rear end of the Audi A7

The addition of such features was welcomed by both buyers and the media, who touted a new “Golden Age” of cars. On an inflation-adjusted basis, cars were becoming cheaper, safer, and more efficient over time.

But one high-profile Tesla accident in 2016 turned the tide.

The vehicle’s data recorder was soon recovered and analyzed. It quickly became clear to engineers that the Tesla had been distracted by the beautiful weather and lulled into a false sense of security while traveling down a long, straight, flat Florida highway.


Based on a Freedom of Information Act request, the translation of the Tesla’s data feed is as follows:

11:11:17 – Power reserves okay, steering inputs minimal, throttle steady 61%, speed 58mph.


11:11:19 – Slight right turn, tightens; throttle 58%, speed 51mph.

11:11:22 – Weather clear, possible thunderstorms in next 40-45 minutes. ETA 11:28.


11:11:25 – It sure is bright today. Driving in Florida isn’t much fun. Did Snape really kill Dumbledore? That changes everyth [END TRANSMISSION]

The NHTSA investigated the accident and found the driver was not at fault, although he potentially placed too much faith in the car’s Autopilot system. The Autopilot system, however, was suffering from early signs of job burnout. Other related vehicle systems, such as the GPS sensor, forward-looking cameras, and cruise control were not aware of any of the early symptoms of exhaustion in their coworker, but nonetheless felt partially responsible for the accident and have been uploaded with grief counseling software.


The SAE study concluded that both drivers and car mechanics should be especially aware of the signs of vehicular system fatigue and distraction. These can include cruise control failing to maintain the assigned speed; collision warning systems providing constant false alarms; and navigation systems directing people into nearby bodies of water.

Ash78’s car posted this while driving.

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