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Geek Girl Report – Built-in Car Computers: Helpful Driving Assistant Or Huge Distraction?

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

So a friend of mine got a new car the other day, and invited me to take a spin in it. Now this particular friend is what I like to call “technologically illiterate,” one of those types who can barely write an E-mail without asking someone for help. So naturally, she wanted her tech-savvy buddy, the “Geek Girl,” to program the fancy built-in computer on her new car while she was busy cruising around town. While I wasn’t thrilled about having to spend my afternoon programming someone else’s new toy, I did learn quite a bit about these on-board car computers.

When these “infotainment” computers first arrived on the scene, their function was limited primarily to GPS, and were reportedly a bit hit-and-miss when it came to their accuracy. But technology quickly improved and nearly overnight, these clunky on-board GPS systems turned into the sleek, multifunctional on-board computers that show up in virtually every new car on the market today. In addition to providing navigation, these computers also handle a number of other functions such as climate control, hands-free communications, and entertainment via satellite radio, digital music players, and even a built-in DVD player in some cases.

This is all well and good, but it’s not without its problems. For one thing, when you’ve got a piece of software running that many different components, you’re in for a steep learning curve. Even after messing with the computer on my friend’s new Toyota for a little while, there’s still a good majority of functions that I don’t even know how to use yet. And this leads to my next point: when you’re messing around with the on-board computer, you run the risk of distracted driving.

Everyone is so quick to jump all over texting while driving as the main cause of car accidents nowadays, and yes, I agree that it is a major issue. But you can be just as distracted trying to figure how to control the A/C from the radio screen as you can trying to text your friend. In both instances, your eyes and your mind are off the road and not paying attention to what’s ahead of you. The only difference in my opinion is that the computer is more readily accessible than the phone, and while it’s easy to just simply put your phone away while you’re driving, it’s a little more difficult to turn off that computer, especially if it’s tied in to the car’s ignition system.

So to wrap it all up, I think built-in car computers are very cool and convenient, as long as you know how to use it. And if you don’t know how to use one, you’d better start learning, cause these computers aren’t going anywhere.

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