It’s time to call a halt to the race for more in-vehicle screens

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The information age has arrived in force in an automotive cabin near you -- and a race is on to see how many electronic screens automakers can jam into their designs.

Welcome to your own mobile multiplex.

Only a few years ago, cars and pickups relied on analog gauges and perhaps two lines of single-color digital displays to relay information to the driver.

Now it’s not uncommon for vehicles to have a huge infotainment screen in the center stack, a smaller vehicle information screen in the gauge cluster and perhaps a pair or more of entertainment video screens for passengers behind the front row.

That’s four or more screens in some vehicles -- and even more if the vehicles have a head-up display.

In one sense, this breakout of video screens is useful: The level of information available to the driver of a modern vehicle today about the condition of the machine and its location is the most it has ever been. Drivers can adjust their driving habits instantaneously to boost fuel economy, can view the air pressure in all four tires while the vehicle is moving and can even view local movie times and fuel prices in real time, all while their passengers watch movies on their own screens.

That’s great in a society that tends to spend much more time in vehicles than did previous generations. But this mobile den of distraction comes with more than one high price tag.

Each screen is likely to cost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to replace as new vehicles age and their screens lose pixels or malfunction, as all electronics are prone to do over time.

But the bigger cost may come from the added injuries and lives likely to be lost as drivers have more images and sound to steal their attention from the road.

Automakers who want to succeed must chase or create consumer demand for their products by offering options that customers want. That’s the system we live in, and that’s OK.

But I’m not so sure that American consumers’ well-documented and unwavering desire for “bigger/better/more” in everything they buy really serves anyone well when it comes to onboard vehicle video screens.

I’d much rather change the channel than watch this race play out.

I’ve seen this movie before, and I don’t like the way it ends.

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.

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