2013
11.14

I never considered the smartphone to be a fifth appendage. But I have to admit after Miranda Lightstone from Auto123.com made that point the other day on The Peggy Smedley Show she got me thinking. Have we become a society that cares more about being connected than we do about being socially correct?

What about the carmakers? Are carmakers now designing and catering to drivers who are more focused on their cellphones and texting than they are on keeping their eyes on the road ahead? Wow! I have been talking about driving and texting for years. But when Lightstone framed the conversation this way, I have to admit this was an even greater wakeup call for me.

I’m certain Lightstone never imagined I would get on my soapbox, but as I pondered our conversation even more, I realized that more and more motorists are dictating what they want in their vehicles putting their desires ahead of safety. Let’s face it, connected tech is constantly changing. That’s why all the technology writers are never bored and we all have so much to write about these days.

Consumers expect—and are demanding—cars to be connected and to feature the level of innovation they see in their personal devices. But here is where the rubber meets the road. Do we really need the same innovation in our personal devices to be in our cars? More importantly, should we have the same capabilities at our fingertips available to us when we are driving at speeds of 60 mph and our eyes should be focused on the road ahead? Lightstone says, no and I agree. She is not alone. It seems every journalist I have spoken with agrees that not every bell and whistle should be included in our vehicle. The bigger question now is: Where do we draw the line?

She notes that the technology in our vehicles now is so heavy duty that modern-day car buyers are more concerned with whether or not their cars can read text messages, access Internet radio, and talk back to them. Lightstone made the point that maybe it’s time to go back to the old days when we stripped the dashboard down to feature the basics of offering just a simple radio and not much more.

Although she is really not suggesting we go back to offering just radios in our vehicles, Lightstone does make a valid point. Have we just gone too far, too fast? On the other hand, she points out that technology has led to some really great safety innovations, such as traction control systems, electronic stability control, forward-collision warning, anti-lock braking, lane departure, back-up warning, or blind-spot detection systems. All-in-all, there are pros and cons to connected-car connectivity. Which leads us to our key question: Are the automakers letting consumers steer the direction of infotainment in the dashboard?

Another very interesting comment that she raised is that car dealerships are still very “old school.” It’s not surprising that many car dealerships are still focused on things like trunk space, speed, performance, and other more traditional vehicle features. Most fail to recognize that technology is key to the sale now. And as such, carmakers need to spend more time educating their dealers to the fact they are selling high-tech machines.

It’s ironic that most dealers really don’t understand that with the smartphone and Internet connection, drivers can provide so many points of contact that can be sent directly to the vehicle. Education is power. As a result, motorists are able to make conscious decisions to access information while driving or what to avoid, the power is now at their fingertips and so is the risk and greater safety issues.

The good news is that the car is undergoing the greatest transformation. What we can hope now is that we all make the right decision behind the wheel so we can enjoy the most out of the connected-car experience.