2012
05.28

Infotainment, safety, styling, and fuel economy are all top priorities to consumers when purchasing cars today. But if you listen to the regulators talk all this in-vehicle on-board connectivity is doing nothing more than leading to distracted driving.

Each day we read another headline that quotes the alarming statistics for accidents caused by driver distraction due to motorists reaching for their mobile devices. The mobile electronics industry continues to get lambasted as a result of car accidents stemming from motorists texting or talking while driving leading to thousands of car crashes. One lawyer even tried to be so crafty as to go after the texter who left two individuals crippled for life after a pickup truck side-swiped the motorcycle the couple was riding. While the court did not agree with the legal maneuver, nonetheless it does demonstrate that we all need to be a little more aware of the task at hand.

In fact, it seems to me that is exactly what the electronics industry and car manufacturers are trying to do with advances in our connected devices. I for one do not think the car makers are given enough credit for working diligently to develop the connected cars that help drivers keep their eyes and minds more focused on the road ahead.

Despite what regulators and law enforcement officials say, automakers are struggling to strike a balance between safety and technology. While more than 38 states ban texting while driving, that has not stopped motorists from reaching for their smartphones resulting in more driver fatalities each and every day.

With all due respect to our lawmakers, consumers have such a need to be connected 24/7, that in most cases has become almost an addiction. We have become a society that is tethered to our devices in this connected world. Thus, rather than trying to ban all of our mobile devices, let’s embrace our technology and find ways to help consumers use our technology wisely. We certainly have enough of it.

That is why Connected World magazine awarded car makers this year for the first time with the Connected Car of the Year award in four areas. Vehicles with technology that struck the right balance of safety, convenience, and infotainment and are helping consumers interact with technology in a safer and more responsible way. These car companies have developed some of the most advanced in-dash systems that still enable motorists to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. You can bet that within the next few years almost every vehicle will have some form of connected car features.

Automakers admit they too are concerned about driver safety and that is why they are creating systems that give consumers the best of both worlds. The biggest concern stems from how to strike that right balance. In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., issued a 177-page set of proposed guidelines for in-car electronics. The report repeatedly mentions such things as dashboard displays and offerings that include Twitter posting in traffic, checking restaurant recommendations, and buying tickets from behind the wheel among of host of other things.

While I am not in support of the report’s recommendations, I do think it does make some interesting points when addressing social media. Several car companies have announced social media into the mix with app support like Twitter, Yelp, Google, and Facebook. Some even plan to introduce a suite of streaming services using Aha, a division of Harman.

While I truly see the benefits of restaurants and purchasing tickets to make an event while traveling in a car, I am still on the fence about the reading of Twitter and Facebook postings aloud. I have yet to see anything on these social media sites that isn’t so urgent that just can’t wait. I do believe some of the personal postings and conversations can create unwanted distractions even if read out loud. So even if I agree with the car makers that they are doing more, I do have some apprehensions about some of the offerings.

Before the car companies jump down my throat, I know the argument is that consumers are already doing these things with their cellphones. And that is rub. Just because they are doing it doesn’t make it safe or right. Thus comes the government regulation side of the discussion. There is no question that voice-commands are better, but even an argument in a car can lead to distractions. And heaven help us if they start regulating the conversations we have with our loved ones.

The idea is to avoid as much distraction in the car as possible. It really is more than just getting us to put down our mobile devices. It really is a discussion about us all being safer drivers while still being connected. We need to strike a balance without banning the use of all technology. It’s about personal responsibility.

That is exactly why the editors spent months evaluating connected vehicles. We looked at all price levels, ranging from the small and midsize, to the luxury and ultra-luxury sedan-style categories. Come see for yourself Chrysler 300 and its Uconnect; Cadillac XTS, with the CUE; and the Audi A8, showing off the Audi connect and why they were named Connected World magazine’s Car of the Year. They will all be on display at the Connected World Conference June 11-13 in St. Charles, Ill.

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