Consumers v. Automakers v. Government

Detroit News - May 20, 2012

Customers Are Demanding Connected Cars, The Government Demands Few Distractions, Automakers Caught in the Middle

Automak­ers are being torn between two very pow­er­ful forces. On the one hand cus­tomers want to be con­nect­ed to the out­side world from their cars. They want Wi-Fi, and to be able to receive cell phone calls and plug in their iPods. Automak­ers have respond­ed with a host of new fea­tures, most packed into the vehicle’s cen­ter con­sole. These fea­tures have become the price of admis­sion for automak­ers.

On the oth­er end are safe­ty advo­cates and sev­er­al state and fed­er­al agen­cies that want to lim­it devices in auto­mo­biles they con­sid­er as dri­ver dis­trac­tions. This push began with efforts to lim­it cell phone use and tex­ting by dri­vers. A num­ber of states and local gov­ern­ments have laws on the books mak­ing these prac­tices unlaw­ful. The Feds are now on board with U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood, launch­ing a full-scale assault on dis­tract­ed dri­vers, which will soon turn into fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions.

Cit­ing safe­ty con­cerns, the most stri­dent safe­ty advo­cates want to elim­i­nate all fea­tures that can cause dri­ver dis­trac­tions. This could put the Ford SYNC and GM OnStar sys­tems in jeop­ardy.  Automak­ers, how­ev­er, say remov­ing or lim­it­ing these sys­tems will cause dri­vers to seek oth­er, less safe means of stay­ing con­nect­ed.

All of this is play­ing out with the devel­op­ment of self-dri­ven cars and the asso­ci­at­ed tech­nolo­gies hap­pen­ing in the back­ground. Fea­tures like front col­li­sion avoid­ance sys­tems, blind spot alert mir­rors, and auto­mat­ic brak­ing sys­tems are becom­ing more preva­lent on today’s vehi­cles, and assist dri­vers in the avoid­ance of traf­fic acci­dents.



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