Driving and Touch Screens

Lynn JataniaOur son turned 15 last month, and we’ve had plenty of wary, nervous comments since then about how driving is just around the corner. Next year, he’ll be getting his beginner’s licence! Just 11 more months before he’s behind the wheel!

We’re all pretty nervous about it. Nervous/excited. Is there a word for that?

We had to replace our car last summer, and we considered the dawn of the Age of Teen Drivers when picking out a new car. We chose one that is small and easy to handle, not too overpowered – discouraging donuts and hot dogging! – and that is an automatic.

But one thing we didn’t think about was that this new car had a big touchscreen interface in the dash. It’s our first model with this kind of interactive screen, used to control all the different music sources and the inside temperature. It’s a new place for us to find technology – and as with all new things, it’s been a struggle to get used to it.

When I’m driving the car, I find it very difficult not to be distracted by the giant screen with all the big, pretty buttons. Our car now takes MP3 sticks with thousands of songs on it – but you have to use the screen to scroll, search and select. It’s a complex series of button pushing, with a fair bit of reading, all while trying not to drop the glove you had to remove to use the device. Needless to say, it takes the majority of my attention to use it, which makes it a dangerous thing to work with while driving.

The car screen can also hook into your phone, via Bluetooth, so you can make calls or even dictate texts while driving; you can also access your phone’s apps through the car touchscreen and bring up maps or music. But all of that stuff is just more media that takes away from your primary job while driving – paying attention to the road.

It’s taken a while, but I’ve learned that the pretty touchscreen is a toy to be used by passengers, not the driver. It’s best to try to set everything up before leaving the driveway – although our car screen takes a long time to boot up and get ready, so the temptation to get going and then fiddle with it at a stop sign is strong. When I’m going on a short trip, I don’t bother to connect my phone, avoiding another distraction. If I catch myself leaning over to touch buttons instead of watching the road I turn the whole thing off.

I’m worried about how this new device will affect my teens and their ability to become safe, competent drivers. The other day we were talking about how the first level of licensing has some great rules attached to it, including not driving on major highways, sticking to daytime driving, and having a licensed driver next to them. Perhaps we need to consider adding a new rule: no car touch screens or Bluetooth phone activity until they reach the next level of licensing. (This is already the law in B.C. and Saskatchewan, where even hands-free devices aren’t allowed until a driver has their full licence.)

What do you think – do you find the car touchscreen a major distraction? Or have you learned to work with it while driving? How do you think it will affect young drivers?