Safety experts are raising concerns about the latest evolving distraction in cars: the interactive dashboard.

You already know that fiddling with your smartphone while driving is illegal, highly dangerous and can lead to a serious accident or death. These evolving displays, however, can be just as distracting, leading to the same dangers.

The interactive screens are highly popular and carmakers will continue rolling them out to boost revenue and attract buyers. Auto manufacturers say these dashboards will make driving safer because the voice controls and large touch screens will keep drivers from fumbling for their phones.

But David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science at the University of Utah who has authored a number of studies on distracted driving, disagrees. He says that interactive dashboards “are enabling activities that take your eyes off the road for longer than most safety advocates would say is safe.”

His research shows that reading the average text message, which can be done on many new interactive car screens, takes about four seconds, enough time to distract a driver from what’s happening on the road.

And as technology continues evolving, so do the dangers. There are systems on the market that:

•          Allow drivers to sync their phones and check for mentions of them on Twitter – and to even push those tweets to the dashboard.

•          Alert the driver when text messages arrive and they can press a button to hear the message read aloud.

•          Allow the driver to upload a photo taken on a smartphone and request mapping to the place the picture was taken.

•          Allow the driver to sync their smartphone and get a scaled-down version of the phone on the display.

•          Don’t rely on syncing with smartphones, and instead mimic what phones can do, like checking for nearby attractions while on the move.

Few governing laws

The laws on dashboard displays are spotty and only a few states have statutes that forbid the use of videos on the dashboard display that are not used for navigation – like cameras for reversing the vehicle.

Meanwhile, federal motor vehicle standards only require that screen brightness be adjustable.

What you should do

While there are few laws in place governing the use of these systems, you should use common sense and use them as you would legally use your phone.

If you have a vehicle with an interactive screen, use it sparingly and avoid interaction while the car is on the move.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends the following to reduce distraction in cars with interactive dashboards:

•          Don’t use functions that include photographs or moving images unrelated to driving.

•          Any task should require less than six taps in order to be completed.

•          Drivers should be able to complete tasks in a series of 1.5- or 2-second glances, for a total of no more than 12 seconds.

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