Display distraction

Carly Brookfield thinks it's dangerous that in-car messaging and social media is being pushed to a young driver audience

Question for you – as a driver training professional, are you unsettled, not just by the push of mobile phone apps to the dashboard or heads up display but also at the push from manufacturers to target this as a benefit – particularly to a new driver audience?

I’ve been uneasy about the whole concept of switching the engine on and my main screen being suddenly awash with the symbols for Whatsapp, messaging and Spotify for a while. Great that I can tap into my tunes and audio books on the move, but regardless of how busy I am, and how connected a person I need to be, do I really need my socials and messaging functions on screen and in the corner of my field of vision whilst driving, tempting me like a Pandora’s Box when I see a red bubble popping up to indicate new messages? 

The argument is, better they’re relayed to the main screen where we’re allowably using apps already like sat nav, radio etc than sneaking a look at our handheld phones. But really, it’s better we don’t look at these apps at all, in any way, when our keys are in the ignition and we’re deemed ‘in control’ of a vehicle. 

As a society we’ve come to confuse want with need in all aspects of our life. I need that new handbag, I need that second holiday or car, I need to be able to access my social media and messages on the move. In reality we don’t ‘need’ half the things we feel we do and I would count half the things on a car’s central display to be amongst those. 

There is an almost unbridled (and largely unregulated) development of in-car communication and it worries me that ‘need’ for connectivity, the relentless progress and consumption of new tech, and the fact that technology outpaces regulation and legislation, is going to culminate in a car crash both metaphorically and physically. Manufacturers are largely at liberty to place what in-car comms they want in new vehicles and are doing at speed, whilst understanding of the negative, distracting impact of such features trails far behind, and regulation even further.

What concerns me more is the fact that marketing campaigns, pivoting on these features, are directly targeted at new drivers – in a way which would never be tolerated with other products, which can lead to risky behaviours. 

I recently watched the TV advert of a brand (which focuses on both the instructor and new driver market) the other day and it struck me all they were promoting as a benefit of that vehicle was that you could listen to all your banging tunes in it and access all your socials and messages. 

We don’t allow the ‘benefits’ of alcohol, nor the products at all, to be promoted to young, coming of age audiences as we’re so aware of the risks and public health consequences. But the biggest killer of young people worldwide, we can sell risks as benefits and fool them that reaching to tap an app on a screen on a console, rather than on their mobile is better for them. What are your views?

DIA CEO Carly Brookfield has over 18 years‘ experience in senior management helping to develop and promote both private and public sector bodies including professional membership and industry bodies in the medical, education and financial services arena. She is also an experienced campaigner and lobbyist on road safety issues and a member of the DfT’s Road Safety Delivery Group and a board member of the research and knowledge hub The Road Safety Observatory.

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