Having told the world that Onstar will allow users to update their Facebook profiles and listen to Facebook news feeds from their cars, bosses at the GM subsidiary reveal that they haven’t actually determined if these features are safe yet. Onstar Marketing boss Sam Mancuso explains the situation to AdAge
Today people are texting while they are driving. It’s not legal and it’s a very bad idea; 47% of people who are texting say that they have done so in their vehicle while driving. To do a normal text message takes 4.6 seconds, and at the speed of 55 miles an hour, someone can travel the length of a football field. We know that people want to use technology, but we are working on using it in ways that they don’t have to be distracted. Our goal is to minimize that distraction to virtually zero.
The litmus test we use is “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your mind on the drive.” If we find that the texting service or Facebook audio update capability causes people to be distracted we’re not going to do it. We’ll vet those things out internally…We’d be very proud to talk to you, others in the media or family and friends and say we tested it, developed it and it’s not safe.
Does anyone actually believe that this will be the outcome, now that GM and Onstar have begun hyping these features?
After all, Mancuso explains that the rebranding of Onstar has already begun.
We’re stretching the brand according to our original mission, which is keeping people connected via their vehicles. In the past, OnStar was depicted as you knew it was there and you didn’t want to have to use it because that meant there was an accident or your car stolen. You’ll see in the new campaign uses of OnStar with everyday circumstances that are bright, energetic, positive and optimistic. We want to convey services that you want to use every single day that help you enable your interaction with your vehicle versus having a service you love but you don’t want to have to use it.
And doesn’t using distracting features more in “everyday circumstances” fundamentally increase driver distraction? Remember, we still have yet to see evidence that hands-free communication is fundamentally safer than using a handheld device. And over at GM’s Fastlane blog, we hear that
With all of these advancements, there’s one thing that we’ll never lose sight of, and that’s the safety of those in our vehicles. We will lead in developing solutions that minimize driver workload with an emphasis on keeping hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
We’ll increasingly rely on voice recognition solutions that minimize driver distraction, and we have a team of researchers and engineers at our Technical Center in Warren, Mich. whose job it is to test and validate all of our connectivity solutions using our advanced interior simulator.
The simulator allows us to measure driver behavior while they complete simple tasks like changing a radio station or inputting a navigation destination. The team looks at eye movements, pedal and steering adjustments that result from completing the tasks.
If it takes too long for a driver to complete the task, we go back to the drawing board and make the task simpler
This seems to contradict Mancuso’s claim that GM “would be proud” to walk away from Facebook integration if it were found to be unsafe. “Making the task simpler” is not the same as deciding not to chase a feature whose pointlessness is evident in Onstar’s own demonstration video. Meanwhile, we don’t know what GM’s standard for acceptable distraction is, but we do know that passive safety measures can be sold, while active safety (namely, distraction-free driving) can’t. Given this set of incentives, it’s hard not to worry about the safety implications of Onstar’s move towards social media.