From checking tweets to purchasing concert tickets, automakers say they are providing a safer alternative to what drivers are already doing in their cars – even though critics warn the move just adds to the distracted-driving epidemic.
Ford Motor Co.’s Sync uses voice commands to allow drivers to command and control apps on their smartphones, make calls and select songs on an MP3 player – all without the use of their hands.
General Motors Co.’s CUE will have an 8-inch touch screen display that functions much like a tablet and smartphone, allowing drivers to make calls, access apps and maps and scroll through lists.
Mercedes-Benz’s Mbrace system will help drivers find destinations via Google Maps, locate a parked vehicle with their smartphone and buy event tickets.
Rob Reynolds, executive director of FocusDriven, an organization that seeks to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving, said these “infotainment systems” were dangerous because they were visually attractive to drivers.
“You shouldn’t be interacting with computers when you’re driving,” said Reynolds, whose teenage daughter was killed in a car crash caused by a distracted driver in 2007. “The propensity for loss of life is much too great.”
“Distracted driving is an epidemic. This will cause crashes, I guarantee it,” he said. “We need to listen to government bodies like the NTSB.”
In December, the National Transportation Safety Board urged all U.S. states to ban drivers from using electronic devices while driving, including for text messaging. In 2009, more than 5,400 people died and nearly 550,000 were injured in crashes linked to distraction, according to the Department of Transportation.
Reynolds said that by adding these in-dash technology systems to vehicles, carmakers were suggesting to drivers that they could safely drive while occupied doing other tasks.
But Alan Hall, Ford Motor Co.’s technology communications manager, said the company’s Sync program was in response to consumer trends that had grown in the last five years because of mobile devices.
“Drivers that are doing these activities (checking tweets and listening to Pandora), we are providing a safer alternative to them,” Hall told ABC News. “This is a growing trend inside of the car. Technology is critical for our customers.”
Doug VanDagens, the global director of connected services at Ford, said the carmaker was taking a practical view.
“We looked at what people were already doing in their cars. … If they’re doing that in their cars, we’re going to make it safer with voice [command],” he said. “Voice orientation … allows you to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while you do things you normally do in the car. [Sync is] a safer alternative to how people use phones in the car.”
Carroll Lachnit, a features editor at Edmunds.com, said carmakers were correct that drivers were requesting more technology in vehicles. A survey at the end of 2011 by Deloitte found that 59 percent of those ages 19 to 31 said that the most important part of a car’s interior as the in-dash technology. Of that 59 percent, 75 percent preferred a touch-screen interface to dials or buttons.
“Carmakers are in the business of selling cars … [and] meeting customer demand,” she told ABC News. “Automakers are trying to reach an accommodation and give consumers what they want in a safe way. [But] drivers need to be aware when they’re in the car [that] their job is to drive and multitasking is not a good thing. No[body] is making you update your Facebook status in your car.”