DETROIT — Drivers have never had so many distractions tempting them to take their eyes off the road and their hands off the wheel.
Talking on cell phones and typing text messages while driving has already led to bans in many states. But now auto companies, likening their latest models to living rooms on the road, are turning cars into cocoons of communication systems and high-tech entertainment.
Some drivers are even packing their car interiors with GPS navigation screens, portable DVD players and computer keyboards and printers.
State Sen. Carl L. Marcellino of New York learned this firsthand while riding in a cab in Miami — the driver was watching a boxing match on a television mounted on the dashboard.
“I can understand a monitor in the rear, but up front it is a different world,” said Marcellino, who sponsored a bill last year to ban all “display generating devices” in the driver’s view.
New York already has a law against TV sets in the front seat. “The driver shouldn’t be doing anything other than driving,” Marcellino said.
Motorists have always engaged in risky behavior, whether it is eating a sandwich, arguing with a spouse, applying makeup or studying a map while speeding down the interstate.
Safety experts say the influx of electronics is turning cars into sometimes chaotic — and distracting — moving family rooms.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 80 percent of vehicle crashes and 65 percent of close calls are caused in part by driver distraction.
And some tragic accidents have drawn further attention to the dangers.
In June, five teenage girls were driving to a vacation home in upstate New York when their sport utility vehicle crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer, killing all of them.
Police later learned from phone records that the driver had been typing text messages on her phone just before she swerved out of her lane. Toxicology tests ruled out alcohol and drugs as possible causes.
The rise in distraction-related accidents is chilling to auto-safety advocates who typically study air bags and rollovers.
“If we don’t do something about it, you’re looking at a situation that could rival drunk driving as a risk factor in crashes,” said Clarence M. Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocacy group based in Washington.