Mercer Island Reporter


Screen time | Editorial

Mercer Island Reporter Former editor
August 28, 2013 · 9:36 AM

Drivers who text or talk on cellphones are distracted. And even the briefest of distractions can be deadly.

Statistics show that a growing number of traffic accidents and fatalities in our state are being attributed to distracted driving.

A special initiative by the Washington State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies to stop and ticket drivers who text and talk while driving just ended last weekend. It is too early to know how many were stopped, but we’d guess a whole lot of drivers will be paying that $124 ticket.

Much time and effort has been put into discouraging and criminalizing drinking and driving. We’d like to say it has changed such behaviors. Instead, the incidence of distracted driving is picking up any slack.

Law enforcement and safety experts say that distracted driving is akin to being legally drunk.

Yet more and more car manufacturers are adding more distractions — this time to the dashboard.

A look at a piece of standard equipment on the new Tesla Model S sedan is instructive. The $62,000 electric car’s equipment list includes:  “A 17-inch, (color) capacitive touchscreen is the focal point of the new Tesla Model S infotainment and control. All media, communication, cabin and vehicle controls are brought to life through this high resolution input screen.”  Whoa.

One feature displays a real time traffic map showing the position of the vehicle and surrounding traffic. It is an amazing tool for a driver to use to avoid congestion and find alternative routes. Among other tasks, the high-def display can be used to search for music, offering choices as to genre, artist or track. And there is more. It is irresistible.

It is not just high-end vehicles adding the displays. They are becoming standard on many vehicles. Yes, GPS systems are incredibly useful. But the size and placement of these devices and the myriad tasks and tricks they perform make them difficult to ignore when driver attention should be elsewhere.

So, never mind the phone. It is a different screen, now set front and center, that begs for attention.


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