How to distract a driver

Make the stereo impossible to operate without diverting the driver’s attention:

My car radio is a Kenwood faceplate model and while the sound is fine, getting it to do what I want varies from annoying to impossible. There is one big knob on the front panel. Turning it controls the volume as you might expect, but it also works like a joystick. Pushing it to the left or right takes you to the next station on the dial. Pushing it up or down takes you to la-la land from which there may be no recovery. There are half a dozen other buttons on the faceplate. I know what two of them do. One is the power switch and the other is to eject the faceplate from the radio. The others take you to la-la land. I suppose I could sit down and puzzle out what these buttons do, or (god forbid) download the manual and read the instructions, but where’s my motivation? Finding a radio station to listen to is a bit of a crap shoot. The advertising on the commercial stations is beyond annoying, and I can only listen to so much jazz before I have to turn it off. So I tap the joystick to the right until I find something worth listening to, or I get tired of this game and turn it off, or I am not precise enough in my tap and the faceplate demon interprets my tap as up or down and sends me to la-la land.

Gwendolyn’s stock sound system comes from Bose. It, too, has one big knob on the front panel, but it has only two modes of operation: rotational, in which case it functions as a volume control, and in/out, in which case it’s your power switch. There are six buttons for 18 presets (12 FM, 6 AM), and if you’re not listening to the radio, other functions are introduced. For example: if you’re playing a cassette (yes!), one of those presets instead toggles Dolby B noise reduction.

More complaints about my car’s radio: the volume control is not a real volume control, it’s some kind of digital position sensor, and while it has fine position sense, its speed sense is poor. Trying to spin the knob to turn the volume all the way down only results in turning it down about the same amount you would get from a quarter turn, so to get it to shut up you have to turn it and turn it and turn it. Criminently. I think this radio was designed by and for digital geeks. The alternative is to turn it off, but that requires pushing on the power button and holding it for 2 or 3 seconds, which, when you are driving can be an eternity. And the power button is right next to the eject button, so if you mis-stab the faceplate falls off. I’ve learned to be careful with the power button, but when quiet time is over and you want to hear some tunes and you carefully press the power button again (it only takes a fraction of a second to turn it on), then you get to wait while the radio wakes up and goes through it’s morning calisthenics even though it was just blasting away a minute ago. Stupid radio.

I have the same volume control issue, but it requires less than 360 degrees to go from zero to Maximum Loud. The eject button for tape is to the right of the tape slot; for CD, to the left of the CD slot. (There is an optional 6-CD changer, which I don’t have.) The biggest problem, for me, is that the volume-control knob is identical in shape and size to the temperature control on the HVAC unit. More than once I’ve tried to crank up a tune and was greeted by the sudden disappearance of the A/C.


  1. In The Mailbox: 03.22.18 : The Other McCain »

    22 March 2018 · 11:26 pm

    […] Dustbury: How To Distract A Driver […]

  2. McGehee »

    23 March 2018 · 5:05 am

    I think my car stereo is sufficiently operable that if there were music on a station around here that I wanted to listen to, I could do so safely. Sometimes I’m tempted to give SiriusXM my credit card number just so I’ll have a shot at finding something that doesn’t make me wish for the San Andreas to turn it up to 11, while somebody nukes Nashville, but it would take so long to regain the habit of listening to the radio in my car that the promotional rate would have expired by the time I was getting any benefit from it.

    At least I know the music I can Bluetooth from my phone is good.

  3. Roger O Green »

    23 March 2018 · 10:23 am

    BAD design, unless the intent is to kill someone, maybe a pedestrian or another driver.

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