The cup holder problem, applied to vehicle distractions

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Cup holders in a vehicle

It used to be that cup holders were a vehicle accessory -- now, they're standard. Distracted driving may be the next "standard accessory." Image: Flickr / nanderson / CC BY

In the 1980’s, cup holders were everything in vehicle sales. Now, a cup holder-style race is having a big effect on driver distraction. While keeping your eyes on the road should be the first concern of any driver, it seems to be more difficult than ever.


The history of the cup holder race

The cup holder arms race in vehicles started in the 1980’s. The number, size, and placement of cup holders is believed by some to have been part of what kicked off the minivan revolution. Once some vehicles started putting cup holders in their standard models, most vehicle makers started integrating cup holders. Now, cup holders can be found in even the most basic new vehicles. The Honda Fit, for example, comes with an average of 1.8 cup holders per passenger.

The problem of distracted driving

Vehicle manufacturers have long been lobbying for on-board technology to be exempted from distracted driving legislation. OnStar, Ford Sync, the Chevy Cruze system, on-board screens, video systems, and ever-more complicated audio systems are all competing for the driver’s attention. Most vehicle makers insist that these systems actually decrease driver distraction by helping keep hands on the wheel — but the reality is, distraction is distraction, be it from a cell phone or a spoken Facebook feed from a button on your rear view mirror. As this technology becomes more popular, it is going to show up in more vehicles, eventually becoming standard.

Efforts to limit distracted driving

Many states and municipalities have made efforts to curb distracted driving. Talking on the cell phone while driving, texting while driving, and distracted driving in general are illegal in many places. Vehicle makers, however, have been lobbying hard for on-board communication systems, such as OnStar, to be excluded specifically from this legislation. The vehicle lobby is a strong one, and as federal legislation is considered that would help reduce distracted driving, on-board systems that have the ability to distract drivers easily may well be exempted.


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