Concern with distracted driving dates back to the advent of automobiles at the turn of the 20th century. Early inconsiderate drivers were called “fliverboobs,” followed by the more common Sunday driver, road hog and joy riders.

The road jumped from 200,000 to 2.25 million from 1909-1916 in Detroit alone. While Motor City became the U.S. model for road plans and driving laws, it took over 15 years to implement stop lights, driver’s education and licensing, turn signals, brake lights and safety lights.

With early cars, distracted driving was a bigger issue. Like a machine on steroids, older vehicles were quite the contraption – requiring both hands at all times. Since it took some time to realize the error of drinking and driving alongside instituting designated pedestrian walkways, the introduction of music in cars was alarming.

In the 1930s both Massachusetts and Missouri introduced laws to ban radios in cars. Arguments were tossed around that music could cause drivers to fall asleep or that tuning the radio would take attention off the road and cause accidents.

Proponents for car audio, like the Radio Manufacturers Association, say the radio could warn drivers about bad weather and road conditions.

It took time for audio to become the standard in vehicles. In the early 1920s, car radios were a third of the cost of a car (roughly $200) and took up too much room. For example, the antenna took up the entirety of the roof and the speakers + their batteries took over the inside of the vehicle.

Luckily, push-button tuning became the norm thanks to Motorola and by the mid 1940s over 9 million cars had radios. General Motors had introduced the first “automatic” shift the year before, becoming the nation’s first taste of contemporary car conventions.

In 19567 Chrysler introduced a mounted record player for music exclusively from Columbia Records.

In the 50-60s, drivers wouldn’t be caught dead without a radio at the height of cruise culture. Chrysler tried to tap into the rock n’ roll lifestyle by producing a 1956 in-car phonograph, the Highway Hi-Fi. It was mounted below the dash that played 7” records exclusively from Columbia. It was quickly phased out since the turntable couldn’t withstand bumps in the road. So AM/FM radio maintained prominence until the 70s as the 4-track StereoPack, cassettes, and 8-tracks took over the market.

Pioneer soon came out with their Supertuner KP-500 for cassettes and radio in 1976. Philips and Sony later developed Compact Discs (CDs) in 1982. So Pioneer created the CDX-1 two years later that boasted track-skipping tech – much better than the time-consuming forwarding and rewinding.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the digital era had officially taken hold. Apple’s iPod and Sirius XM satellite radio were both introduced to the market in 2001. A decade later, Pioneer kept up with the market with satellite ready units with Pandora capabilities. 

All these extra gadgets were not immediately incorporated into car stereo systems. Auxiliary cables attached to cassette tapes and the like hit the market. This and cellphones became fast distractions on the road.

Today, car owners expect the aforementioned functions with Bluetooth and digital streaming capacity – but with easier and safer accessibilities. In the era of smart cars and smartphones, it may not be as difficult to drive a car but it’s just as dangerous. Even more so if you figure that horse-drawn carriages plodded along at 5 mph one-hundred years ago. The modern average speed limit is five times that. 

How have audio systems adapted to maintain as much smart functionality as possible without creating another distraction on the road? Most screened stereo receivers come with voice command, activated through steering wheel controls or a dashboard button, so selections can be made without taking your eyes off where they should be. Some receivers limit keyboard and screen interaction at different speeds or if the car is in motion at all. 

Innovation doesn’t have to come at a cost – utilize your tech wisely. Be a responsible Sunday Driver, not a fliverboob.