Web-Enabled Cars: Drive to Disaster?

"Unless you're stopped in a traffic jam, I don't see any basis for doing that. I think it's a disaster," says Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety, founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

The concern grows just as Internet-enabled cars are getting ready to hit the roads.

Ford Motor Company showcased its 24.7 concept vehicles in January, although the company hasn't announced any models or release dates. General Motors will start offering its MyOnStar Virtual Advisor as an option in new vehicles this summer. (See Internal Links at right for more details.) Neither Ford nor GM is encouraging drivers to use keyboards, mice, or monitors on the road. Both Virtual Advisor and 24.7 provide voice-based interfaces. For instance, Virtual Advisor will simply respond to your vocal commands by reading your e-mail and other data you request out loud (you have to set it up first on a computer back at the office). That way, you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

Look, No Hands!

But is even hands-off data retrieval safe? Driving a car while talking on a hands-free phone is just as dangerous as using a standard handset, according to a recent study by the University of Toronto. Research found that even using a hands-free phone while driving is about four times as dangerous not using a phone at all.

Not everyone agrees with these conclusions. Sara Tatchio, a safety manager for public affairs at Ford, considers the Toronto study flawed.

"Everybody who was in that study had been in accidents," Tatchio says. "The numbers are very hard to define that way."

But other studies point in a similar direction. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Driver inattention is the most frequently cited precrash condition for drivers who use cellular telephones."

Inattention concerns the mind, not the hands or eyes, safety advocates note. Inattention isn't affected by the type of phone you use.

Nevertheless, products such as MyOnStar Virtual Advisor will improve the current road scene cruised by distracted drivers, says Todd Carstensen, manager of communications for MyOnStar, the General Motors venture.

"People are already bringing laptops into cars and plugging them into dashboard lights," Carstensen says. "If we can bring similar information through a single [voice-based] interface, we feel we will make it safer."

In the end, safety depends on the driver. American Automobile Association spokesperson Bronwyn Hogan points out that "the motorist is, for all intents and purposes, responsible for his or her safety."

So, when might it be safe to access data while driving? "Off the top of my head, it's best when the car is not in motion," Hogan says. But in the end, we may soon have more digital temptations on the road and more opportunity to decide how to handle them.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lincoln Spector

PC World
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?