Research from the American Automobile Association finds that new vehicle “infotainment systems” take drivers’ attention off the road for dangerous amounts of time while anecdotal research just released by me finds that an old car stereo that works only because a plastic pocket breath-fresher has been shoved into it does the same.
AAA released their findings in an Oct. 5 news release.
“Some in-vehicle technology can create unsafe situations for drivers on the road by increasing the time they spend with their eyes and attention off the road and hands off the wheel,” David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in the release. “When an in-vehicle technology is not properly designed, simple tasks for drivers can become complicated and require more effort from drivers to complete.”
I agree. Nearly a decade ago, an improperly designed piece of technology found its way into my old truck.
It replaced a piece of technology that didn’t work at all, so I believed it was wonderful because it brought the magical world of radio and music recorded onto space-age compact discs right to my ears where previously there had only been engine noise and my own sighs of despair.
For legal reasons, I will not name the company that made this technology, but I will say if I was a pioneer, crossing the desert as pioneers have done to get to a new land, I, as a pioneer, would not have wanted that stereo in my pioneer wagon.
Initially, it worked well, though the interface was a tad complicated. To go from radio to CD, the driver or passenger – in the unlikely event the passenger was trusted with musical selection – pushed a button and the face of the deck rotated up to reveal the slot where the CD was inserted.
“Wow, that is cool and entirely unnecessary,” I said at the time.
A couple of years and few hundred CDs went by until one day, with Dwight Yoakam’s Greatest Hits in the player, the face of the deck did not rotate up. The radio still played, so I stuck with that for a while and only switched over to Dwight occasionally until I finally got sick and tired of hearing him declare he was a “Honky-Tonk Man.”
“Well, I’m a honky-tonk man.”
“I know, Dwight. I have heard you sing that a thousand times.”
“And I can’t seem to stop.”
“Oh, how I wish you could.”
Finally, before Dwight could give the girls a another whirl and cause me to intentionally steer into oncoming traffic, I pried up the faceplate door with a screwdriver and extracted him with a pair of needle-nose pliers.
I turned the deck back on, the door closed automatically and all the lights on the stereo went off – no radio, no CD player, nothing. I pried the faceplate door back open, held it and hit the power button and the radio played. I released the door, it closed and the system went dark again.
I pried the door back open and the radio played. I grabbed the nearest object that would fit – a plastic pocket breath-freshener lying in the console – shoved it under the door to keep it from closing and I still had – and have to this day -- both FM and AM infotainment.
Of course, I could buy another radio, but that would make too much sense.
Admittedly, the plastic pocket breath-freshener slips out from underneath the stereo occasionally and the radio cuts off, which causes a distraction, if AAA research counts cussing and pounding on the steering wheel as a distraction.
“Drivers want technology that is safe and easy to use, but many of the features added to infotainment systems today have resulted in overly complex and sometimes frustrating user experiences for drivers,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO.
But, I would argue, not as frustrating as the 1,000 th playing of “Honky-Tonk Man.”
Scott Hollifield is editor/GM of The McDowell News in Marion, NC and a humor columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.