Will In-Car Advertising Lead to More Distracted Driving?

Photo Credit: The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

Auto buffs recently picked up on a patent filing from vehicle manufacturer Ford for a technology called “billboard interface for vehicle displays,” prompting a flurry of questions about the automaker’s intent. This interface appears to use a vehicle’s cameras to capture images and information from roadside billboards, communicating it back to the vehicle’s dashboard display to present to the driver and passengers.

In other words, Ford is filing documents to patent technology that allows their vehicles to scan billboards as they travel past them, serving up targeted ads right to the dashboard of your car or truck. Although on paper this might seem like a good idea – reducing the risk of driver distraction from roadside billboards and signs – some experts don’t think so.

Elizabeth Blackstock of car enthusiast site Jalopnik states, “There’s no way that an advertisement is not going to be distracting, even if they’re silent. A momentary change in an infotainment screen redirects your gaze away from the road and nabs a precious sliver of attention that should instead be focused on the asphalt in front of you.”

How would Ford’s technology work?

Ford’s technology (you can look at their patent filing here) does appear to be looking to solve a legitimate issue – distracted driving – but experts are concerned it could actually cause more.

On a road trip, or even on a daily commute, many of us rely on billboards and signs to point us toward gas stations, rest stops, or fast food and coffee joints. However, these signs have limits. Driving past one at 55 miles per hour or faster gives you very little time to read and understand information. Further, billboards don’t make for a beautiful landscape, either, and many counties and municipalities limit the number available.

According to Ford’s paperwork, their technology aims to use their current vehicle camera technology to detect roadside billboards and pass that information directly to the vehicle’s dashboard (or “infotainment” system). In this way, a driver or passenger can view the advertisement longer, and even get enhanced information, like directions, links to a website, phone number, or even a clickable menu.

Gizmodo offers an example of how this could work: “You might be driving by a billboard hawking a Whopper, and the passengers in the vehicle could be given the option to watch a Burger King ad.” Then, your GPS could route you to the nearest BK drive-through.

This is a great idea with loads of opportunities from a marketing perspective. However, from a safe driving perspective, it may not be such a success.

Could in-car ads lead to distracted driving?

They could. A 2019 study from the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that vehicle infotainment systems like graphic-heavy and voice-activated dash displays are distracting, especially for older drivers. In fact, they note, taking your eyes off the road for just two seconds doubles the risk of being involved in a car accident. Older drivers tend to remove their eyes from the road a full eight seconds longer than younger people when interacting with dashboard infotainment systems.

The AAA study tested both visual and cognitive responses required to handle in-vehicle infotainment systems. Their findings? Although older adults experienced longer response times for tasks, these dashboard systems create distractions for drivers of all ages and skill levels.

Another study, conducted by British road safety organization IAM RoadSmart, showed that distraction from vehicle infotainment systems could be just as dangerous as drunk driving. During their research on driver interaction with voice- and touch-control systems, they found “drivers took their eyes off the road for as long as 16 seconds while driving, and using touch control resulted in reaction times that were even worse than texting while driving.”

Dr. David Yang of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety notes, “Voice-command functions found in new in-vehicle technology are intended to help drivers by keeping their eyes and attention on the road. Unfortunately, the complexity and poor design of some of these systems could cause more harm for older drivers, in particular, instead of helping them.”

Ford has yet to announce plans to launch any type of product related to their patent filing, but it is worth discussing the implications of yet more distractions behind the wheel.

If you were injured in a crash with a distracted driver, an attorney from The Hayden Law Firm can help. We will investigate the circumstances of your accident, determine who was at fault, and work to secure fair compensation for your injuries and losses. Talk to a trusted and experienced lawyer today. You can reach our office at 314-798-9942 to schedule a free, no-risk consultation. You can also complete our contact form. We serve the greater St. Louis area and Illinois.