RSS

The Bulletin

The connected car: safer or a hazard on four wheels?

Posting in Technology

 AT&T’s recent unveiling of a 4G wireless platform for automakers was inevitable – cars have been becoming computers on wheels for years now. But is it desirable?

It’s been decades since Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed where car manufacturers were accused of putting profits over safety by resisting seat belts and other improvements that could save passengers’ lives. Now, vehicles are better equipped, but are being loaded up with potentially distracting infotainment systems that may not be safe.

We asked a number of connected car experts for their thoughts on the pros and cons of making the automobile into a device on par with smartphones and tablets. Here's what they had to say.

Pros:

David Reiemenschneider, Global Leader, Connected Vehicle, KPIT: 

·  "If you look at connected vehicles, take for example the emergency services embedded by a couple manufacturers, specifically GM Motor's On-star platform. On-star has been around for a long time. It notifies emergency services if there has been an accident if the passenger or driver doesn't respond. This makes a strong case for connected vehicles.

·  Vehicles of the future are expected to sense and "see" things, communicate through the cloud, talk to other vehicles, and pick up information from those vehicles. You will know there are power lines down over the road, or that there are children playing on the road up ahead, because vehicles will sense that information and will pass it on to other vehicles, thus making it safer all around.”

·  Vehicles will also know the condition of the vehicles around them; they will know if there is a problem emerging and will transmit this information to other vehicles. For example, a large semi-truck that is driving alongside you is about to break down. Since your vehicle is in contact with the truck, you will feel safer knowing what's going on.”

·  The technology will also be used in school buses and delivery vehicles. You will know the exact location of your child's school bus, how fast it's traveling and when it will be at your home. Connected vehicles are safe and will help eliminate accidents on the road. If the driver is distracted, the connected vehicle can disengage the driver by making certain features unavailable on his phone. This will help in reducing or eliminating crashes. It will help drivers and make it a safe environment not only for them but also for pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers."

Jordan Edelson, CEO and Founder of Appetizer Mobile: 

·  "…there is a big upside to this - there has been a bigger initiative to put sensors into cars that allow them to be self-aware of each other. They can make very quick calculations to avoid crashing into each other. There is also legislation underway making these sensors mandatory - but more testing is needed before that can come into play."

John Z Wetmore, producer of pedestrians.org:

·  "Electronics that "assist" drivers have the potential to increase road safety, such as lane-departure warnings.  However, there is the potential for drivers to become reliant on automated systems and end up being less aware of their driving environment. This can negate much of the potential safety increase."

Josh Siegel, student MIT researching connected vehicles and their applications, founder of CarKnow.me: 

·  "From a distracted driving perspective, connected cars are a bit tricky. They provide ample opportunity to distract, but they also can convey more usable information from more sources than ever before. So, a smart implementation - say, tapping into a heads-up display, or something on the instrument panel - may inform rather than distract. I think that it's easy to get carried away with infotainment and have a negative impact, but I'd much rather keep driver apprised of local icing than having them come around a blind corner unaware. It's a game of balancing important inputs and safe ways of conveying information. 

·  From a "safety on the road" perspective, connected cars will be in better repair and therefore safer to operate - no more need for state inspection when a car can monitor its own health. Having worked on cars before, I'd feel much safer knowing a computer is watching over the life of a driver's brake pads. Empirical measurement is way better than gut feel any way. 

·  From a more literal "road safety" perspective, Cloud connected cars - and, to a lesser degree, car-to-car communication - can provide information about local and global hazards, giving the driver an edge in reacting to dangerous situations. The key is to be able to aggregate data from multiple vehicles in realtime, and not to over-inform so as to be distracting."

Cons:

Edelson:

·  "The smart cars that are getting announced more frequently is a trend that is not going away and safety is always an issue. With these smart cars you will see a rise in "distracted drivers." Drivers will now have to contend with a bunch of other distractions in the car, as well as distractions on the road by other drivers."

Joseph Steinberg, CEO greenarmor.com:

·  "Besides the obvious issues related to driver distraction on which I am sure others will comment, there is an issue of potential technical vulnerabilities. As car-based computers become increasingly connected, opportunities for hackers, criminals, or governments to spy on drivers increase, as do the risks of systems being hacked in ways that may cause auto malfunctions and/or accidents."

Wetmore:

·  "Electronics unrelated to the driving task are just additional distractions with the potential to reduce road safety.  Having them voice-activated reduces the physical distraction of manipulating buttons, but does not reduce the mental distraction. Pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to distracted drivers.  Distracted drivers take longer to notice and react to events along the roadway, such as lights turning red or pedestrians in a crosswalk.  Furthermore, distracted drivers can look directly at something and not have it register, so that a pedestrian "making eye contact" with a driver might not actually be seen by the driver."

·  For info on the psychology of distraction, try David Strayer at the  Applied Cognition Lab at the University of Utah: http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/

Siegel:

·  "Of course, I think connecting cars is a fantastic idea, so I'm going to lean far on the "safe" side of the argument - assuming that vehicle owners, operators, and developers are smart about use and implementation. That last part is critical, because we've got a unique opportunity here and just as big an opportunity to muck things up. One of the things CarKnow hopes to work on in the coming months is a set of guidelines and safe practices to minimize driver distraction and interference."

— By on January 10, 2014, 10:33 AM PST

David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure