By on February 18, 2011


With GM’s announcement of a new SYNC-competitor system, the issue of whether or not in-car connectivity systems are compatible with the government’s desire to reduce distracted driving has raised its head once again. So we put the question to you, our Best and Brightest: will the government ever step in to regulate in-car electronics? Should it? After all, distraction comes in all shapes and sizes… from fast food to in-car Facebook updates. Can the government draw a line between acceptable distractions and unacceptable ones? Will any government action actually make a difference in the statistics?

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39 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Will/Should In-Car Connectivity Systems Be Regulated?...”


  • avatar
    slance66

    The government can only make things worse or stifle innovation.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    As with speech, prior restraint of driving distractions is a step too far, and will be impossible to effectively define and/or enforce. I do think that the police should have a very free hand to determine what kinds of (but not contents of) communications were going on in a vehicle involved in an accident, both to encourage appropriate use and to determine contributing factors when things go badly. But proscribing specific activities is doomed to fail.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    As Hamilton wrote in the Federalist papers, if all men were angels, there would be no need for government.  The automotive corollary in this case would be, if all people were responsible, safe drivers, there would be no need for federal regulations of any kind.  We are unique in our ability to reason.  If Americans would magically start thinking and stop texting, talking, shaving, applying makeup, reading, etc. etc. ad infinitum ad nauseum while driving, then there would be no need for federal action.  Since we are too stupid or selfish or filled with a sense of entitlement to curb our own behaviour, then it becomes inevitable that the nanny state will eventually leap into the void and regulate our behaviour for our own good.  More is the pity.

    • 0 avatar
      obbop

      “if all people were responsible, safe drivers, there would be no need for federal regulations of any kind. ”
       
      My agreement is hearty.
      Heartier than any canned soup upon the shelf.
      As hearty as a pirate shouting his piratical joy at being a pirate.
      And that, my buckos, is awesomely hearty.
      The attitude within that declarative statement I refer to can also be wrapped around, perhaps ALL, human affairs and endeavors but is woefully lacking in our society today with even the mere mention of a need for self-policing eliciting a deluge of negativity I view as appalling and indicative  of a society/culture unworthy of saving from the ash-heap of history.

  • avatar
    HalfMast

    Quick answer:  Yes and Yes (a little).

    I can virtually guarentee that government will end up regulating.  And there probably should be some amount of regulation to prevent people who believe that they can effectively multi-task driving with watching 3-D HD Movies from their infotainment system.  There should probably be some very simple regulation about what gets manufacturered and installed.  BUT… their is no such thing as a light touch from government regulation.  So I can also guarentee that government regulation will go completely overboard and stiffle inovation and advancement.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    The government will end up regulating … but what they’ll end up doing won’t make an appreciable difference.
     
    The only regulation that WOULD make a difference is to require all motor vehicles to have a device on them which blocks all cell-phone signals (it doesn’t matter whether communication is hand-held or not), require all GPS-type devices to reject all inputs (keyboard or voice) if the device is detected to be moving on a road, and require all in-car computer-display-type devices including the radio to reject all inputs (keyboard or voice) if the car is not stopped. BUT … this would be politically extremely unpopular and I will bet money that it will never happen.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    Will/Should In-Car Connectivity Systems Be Regulated?

    Will/should dandruff be treated by decapitation?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Will the government regulate car electronics? Most likely, for the “safety” of the driving public.
    Should the government regulate car electronics? That raises an interesting question. People as a group, will do whatever they feel is right, or in their own interest. What people actually think, though, is another question. I’m being careful when I text/talk/play with car audio, so I don’t need to be regulated, go after the other guy who’s texting/talking/adjusting their audio, because they’re allowing themselves to be distracted, and might be hazardous to me. Because of that sentiment, the government will regulate these possible distractions, due to the fact that too many people do not consider the immediate circumstances when doing these things. Me? if my cell phone rings while driving either to or from work, (or while driving anywhere, for that matter), I have to consider the immediate hazards around me and decide whether to take the call or not. More often than not, while negotiating traffic, I let it go and call back when it is safe to do so. I-75 through Cincinnati during rush hour is no place to be distracted for any reason, but I speak only for myself, because nobody has appointed me judge!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    If they do consumers will only respond with more irresponsible behavior, like using their iPad to check email and surf the web while on a late night high speed run across the Midwest.  (Hypothetically of course.)
     
    I trust the manufacturers to better integrate the tech.

  • avatar
    mikenem

    I wish Ray Lahood would stop distracting my driving…

  • avatar
    carguy

    Road rules are there to help everyone get home in one piece. Not all road rules are good but most of the have a reason for existing. I would say that paying attention to where you are driving should not be optional. This is not some libertarian issue as it affects everyone on the road. How well will the government handle the regulation? Will it be driven mostly by phone company lobbyists, anti-car do-gooders or actually be sensible? Most likely lobbyists and anti-car do-gooders.

  • avatar
    shortthrowsixspeed

    why wouldn’t the government regulate in-car connectivity?  it regulates speed, seat belts, phone calls, navigation use, DVD viewing, noise levels coming from the car, bumper height, emissions, child seats, motorcycle helmets, mpgs . . . why stop now?

     

  • avatar
    dimitris

    Forget about should, lobbyists don’t deal with that.
    What will happen is, among other things, this:  In the name of safety from distracted driving – and to a lesser, for automotive purposes – extent, intellectual proper-tah protection:
    Consumer-units shall not be allowed to mess with the firmware of their car infotainment systems.  Want to root your Android-based navitainment deck to add the otherwise unavailable, say, last.fm streaming?  Too bad, $CAR_MANUFACTURER has made an exclusive deal with, say, Pandora, and that’s all you get.  Plus, unauthorized firmware leads to accidents, didn’t you know?
    What did you say?  The Pandora app is buggy?  Want a firmware update?  Well, just come down to your local dealer for the new 2018 model which has the new super-even-more-duper navitainment deck with improved shiny, and all your wishes will be fulfilled.  Sorry, no FW updates offered any longer on your old 2016 model’s deck.
    Wait!  Did you say “aftermarket system”?  Why, some pirate devils are violating our precioussssss intellectual proper-tah!  We have patents on that deck/speaker interface, yes sir-ee!  James, unleash the lawyers!
    Mediamoronization and adcrustification are really just corollaries of financialization; they’re just new-ish to the automotive domain.
    oh, yeah, end rant.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I think this is the REAL problem. Your choices are being limited, forget the old days of swapping out your single DIN tape deck for a new CD player.
       
      Thankfully XM and Sirius merged or else when buying a car you got “stuck” with one or other service. Since Sirius had the NFL contract any XM car owner lost out on listening to NFL games while driving. The same thing is happening now: you either have an iPod, iPad or iPhone to connect or you SOL. I have an iPhone so no complains, but as a Mac owner I know what its like to be in the “minority” when comes to a technology choice. If you have a Dell Jukebox or MS Zune you ain’t playing any of your music via today’s car audio systems. Open standards like Bluetooth will be the only hope going forward.

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      I can’t speak for all of the systems on the market, but the Sync equipped vehicles are happy to play your music for you regardless if you plug in an iDevice, Zune (really?  people still have Zunes?), generic MP3 player, or plain old USB flashdrive.   I imagine most other cars that have USB ports are similar in being fairly platform agnostic.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Having decided long ago to stay away from Apple’s universe – and doubly glad I did so after learning about their 30% cut of the gross on any commerce through their devices – I’ve found the Zune HD to be every bit the equal of the iPod when it comes to pocket portable music systems – and while the iPod can do a lot of things, it can’t do HD Radio (dongles which double the unit’s size don’t count).

  • avatar
    BigDuke6

    Will/Should In-Car Connectivity Systems Be Regulated?
    Will/should dandruff be treated by decapitation

    I have never seen/read a more ridiculous analogy.

  • avatar

    Insurance companies will become the default regulator on this if you are in a crash they will download your in car devices and of course your cell and if it shows activity imediately prior to your crash kiss the cover goodbye whether its your fault or not.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Quite simply, the government shouldn’t regulate and the manufacturers shouldn’t put it in their cars.

  • avatar
    Acd

    No.  We’ve got quite enough regulation already, thank you.

  • avatar
    NulloModo


    Manufacturers self-regulate for their own interests already (no factory option Nav unit for example will play the video signal from a movie on the front screen while the vehicle is in motion, allowing it would potentially open up the manufacturer to liability if it caused a crash). Beyond that, no regulation is needed nor warranted.
     
    Systems like Sync, MyFord Touch, InTune, MMI, etc, reduce distracted driving, not encourage it. There was likely a debate on whether car radios were safe when the first ones became options, but now no one thinks twice about fiddling with the radio while driving. Technology will continue to advance and continue to integrate into vehicles.  Well designed interface systems like Sync allow drivers to do what they are going to do anyway, but do it quicker and without needing to remove as much attention from the road.

  • avatar

    Apologies if I’m too far off base, here, but I try not to waste much time following the advances of technology designed to circumvent natural selection. Are vehicles equipped with such coddling connectivity features also equipped with data recorders? If so, any involvement by the government is moot. Let the insurance industry sort them out.
     
    “According to the data recorder, you were actively using the multimedia/internet controls. Clearly, you were not paying adequate attention behind the wheel. You are responsible for this claim and your rates will be increased by 45% for the next five years.”
     
    Remember being 17? You couldn’t fart in your own car at a red light without your insurance rates going up. I’m suddenly strangely comfortable with those practices. Leave the cars alone. Leave the government out of it. Hit the retards where it hurts – in their wallets. Can’t be bothered to pay attention behind the wheel? Okay, you can still drive, but your insurance is going to parallel your mortgage.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      All your comment means is that you’re unqualified to hold forth on the topic.
       
      When my wife jumps into her car, her Clarion stereo sees her Android phone, she taps the phone screen before she throws it back into her purse, and suddenly she’s listening to streaming music from Pandora. She can pause, skip tracks, or change volume without taking her hands off the steering wheel or looking away from the road. This is an in-car connectivity system and is exactly the type of system that this flabby old man is proposing to regulate. I’m relatively certain it’s safer than you fiddling with a dial to turn up the volume on your 8-track, or whatever was in vogue at the time you went Luddite and decided everyone who came after you would be inescapably branded with some sort of Technological Original Sin.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    This is an obvious case where the government should be involved, since regulation here will limit the damage that people will inflict on others. The case for government involvement is substantially larger here than in the case of mandating seat belts, since that only involves possible hurt that an idiotic driver will inflict on himself, rather than others.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      I agree.  When it comes down to protecting ‘others’ from someone’s clumsiness when driving that is good regulation.  I’m pretty sure if your girlfriend, or wife got t-boned by some dumbass texting, or fidling around with the touch screen on their nav/info system all these folks screaming too much gov’t regulation is going to stifle innovation in the “extra junk to break” category for vehicles might change their minds.  The simple fact is the amount of concentration it takes to work these systems in these cars is way overboard considering you are moving a 3500 + lb projectile object down the road that could at any second cross the center line, run a red light, or any # of things.
       
      This regulation is not to protect people from themselves.  It is to protect others from you.
       
      However, regulation would be difficult to be effective without stifling the industry.
       
      What is needed is easier to use controls that do not require your eyes to be taken off of the road.  For example, many of these vehicles have the heater controls built into the touch screen. So you might have to scroll through six screens just to change the fan speed or activate the defrost.  And likewise if you just want to change the volume on the stereo.
       
      Things that should be simple, are becoming too complex in both the design process and execution of what used to be a simple procedure. Not to even mention reduced reliability and far greater repair costs. Although a replacement unit for these nav/data systems probably cost less than 40 cents to manufacture, plus however much the actual screen costs, maybe ten to twelve dollars.  But a replacement part will probably in the several hundred to well over a grand category.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Dynasty –
       
      Misconceptions like yours are part of the reason politicians like LaHood can grandstand on ‘issues’ like this to drum up mass hysteria (and plenty of publicity for themselves).  I can really only speak from the expert position on the Ford systems, as those are the ones I have the most experience with, but I’ve driven enough trade ins and cars from our used lot to get a feel for some of the competing systems as well.
       
      First of all, we can stop with the hyperbole about going through six screens to turn on a defroster or change the temperature.  On the newest MyFord Touch systems, which probably go the farthest in the industry to reduce button clutter and relegate things to the screen, there are still fixed button areas on the center stack to change temperature on all of the vehicles, and on most to activate things like the defroster as well.  If you have a model that doesn’t have a defroster button, it’s only one menu deep on the screen, so really, two touches on the screen, not six.  In fact, you can even customize the screen with your own commonly used functions, so the defrost feature can be added to the home screen if you like, making it accessible with a single touch.   Better yet, if you like to wear gloves while driving, all of the climate functions are availble via voice command after a single push of a steering wheel mounted button – just it it, tell the car what temperature you want, that you want more or less fan, or that you want the defroster on, and it does it.   Also, all of them have a traditional volume knob still, in fact, I’ve never seen a car anywhere that didn’t let you change the volume or turn off the radio without using the screen.
       
      As I mentioned earlier about self-regulation, most in car nav/infotainment systems do lockout a lot of the sceen buttons while the car is in motion (something I don’t think is necessary, after all, the passenger can use it safely while the driver drives, but I guess it is a bone thrown to the distracted driving nazis).  You can hit the screen for basic functions that don’t take too much thought, but everything else has to be done by the hard buttons on the center stack, or by voice control, again helping to reduce distraction and keep eyes on the road.
      With regards to cost, yes there is a healthy manufacturer’s markup, although your estimates for costs are very very low.  As far as reliability goes though, when something goes wrong with a car, very rarely have I ever seen it be the nav/infotainment system.  Electronics in general are far more reliable than mechanical things.  Given the thousands of mechanical bits in a car that are physically rubbing against each other, wearing down due to friction or breaking down due to heat, the solid state circuits inside of the electronics are likely the most reliable parts in the car overall.
       

    • 0 avatar
      Dynasty

      Actually, I know enough about electronics to know that solid state components are hardly the most reliable especially in the heat extremes an automobile experiences.  What advantage they do have is they are far less expensive to manufacture.  Capacitors, eventually leak and shorts will develop.  Especially in German and English cars.  Yeah, tell people who drive english and german cars that the electronics in them are the most reliable component….
       
      Mechanical hvac controls with a simple cable, will be far more reliable than any electronic system could hope to be.  No motors or vacuum components to wear out.  And as long as the cables are lubricated from the factory, and are steel, they should last pretty close to 50 years plus. Or however long it takes the sheathing to break down.
       
      Perhaps my estimates for costs were low.  But you know that $800 stereo sold at the Hi-Fi store?  They cost approx $30 to manufacture and ship from China to the US.   So I’ll revise my estimate up from 40 cents to 10 dollars.  And maybe 30 dollars TOPS for the touchscreen.
       
      The point I was making is these info systems take a simple task and make it far more complicated (and expensive) than it should be.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I for one have little desire for a car I can talk to tell it to turn the defroster on.   What if my stereo is on? So first I would need to lower the volume (or can I tell the stereo to do that too, or would it even hear me over the music?)  Then tell the info system to turn the defroster one.  Then turn the volume up.  That is three steps.   In my car, I reach over turn the knob all the way to the right and the defroster is on.  One step.  And it doesn’t even matter if the radio is on or not.
       
      Vehicles are getting way out of reach for most people and all this needless luxury is just furthering the trend that not only increases initial capitol outlay, but also increases repair costs.   Or worse, leads to increased accidents. Leading to increased safety regs, leading to even more over bloated vehicles, lowering mileage and performance, etc.  The madness must stop (j/k about that part)
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      NulloModo

      Dynasty –
      Perhaps I made the statement about electronics being more reliable a bit too broadly.  I was speaking in particular about navigation/infotainment type stuff, which, at least in my experience, actually breaks very rarely.  I know that some cars experience gremlins from various sensors in various places under the hood and in the wheels/brakes/suspension system, or from strange wiring shorts here and there, but most of these touch-based systems are close to sealed box designs, with a couple external connections for power, audio amps, antennae access, and a data link to the vehicle control computer for integration with HVAC.  Plus, we aren’t talking about old German or English cars here – this isn’t Lucas Electric work, and there are no vacuum lines here.  The modern nav/touchscreen setup is more like a netbook or smartphone that is permanently mounted in the dash, and while yes, it can be subject to stresses from shock and wide temperature swings, these systems were also designed for cars to experience those conditions.
       
      In any event, you proposition that these systems are what is raising the cost of repairs on modern vehicles is off the mark, at least in my experience.
       
      With regards to turning down the radio/speaking/turning up – you don’t have to do that, you push the voice command butten which automatically turns down the radio, give you the prmpt to speak, then turns it back after the command is executed.  With Ford’s system (and I imagine the competing ones as well) a lot of money and time was spent with experts in ergonomics and human interface to work out little details like that and make it a fairly seamless experience to use the system.  This isn’t just a bunch of stuff that the automakers are throwing in to add some bullet points to the sales brochure – this stuff works, adds real functionality and convenience to the vehicle, and makes you a safer driver by using it.   The problem is a lot of people talking about how it’s dangerous or complicated without ever actually trying to use the system, or by basing their experience on it from driving a friend’s car for a day, or a rental, or some other situation where they didn’t take time to read the manual, or even take fifteen minutes to sit down and bother to play around with it and learn how it works.

    • 0 avatar
      Z71_Silvy

      This isn’t just a bunch of stuff that the automakers are throwing in to add some bullet points to the sales brochure – this stuff works, adds real functionality and convenience to the vehicle, and makes you a safer driver by using it.

       
      Spoken like a true sales person.
       
      There is no proof that an overly complicated system like the FordMy Touchy thingy actually makes you a safer driver.  You probably think that AWD and traction control make people safer drivers when in actuality, it makes them a hazard on the road as they are driving way too fast for conditions because of the false sense of security that their fancy electronics have given them.
       
      The FACTS are, simplicity rules when designing automobiles.  And the appliances from Ford are FAR too complicated and shouldn’t be on the road.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    The Government should.  When Ford introduces a system that ENCOURAGES distracted driving (SYNC) and introduces a system that takes a very simple task and turns it into an ordeal that includes taking your eyes off the road (changing the temperature with the My Touchy thingy), it’s clear that the automakers couldn’t care less about driving safety…all they care about is half-assed computers running everything in the car.
     
    Ford promotes SYNC as the safer alternative to communicating on the phone while driving…I cannot wait until someone crashes and then sues Ford (and wins) because they were using SYNC and still crashed.
     
    Ford is encouraging distracted driving…and that isn’t right.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      MikeAR

      You never miss a chance to take a shot at Ford do you? Did your high school bully drive one or what?

      On-Star is just as bad. Why aren’t you griping about it?

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      For the record, one my favorite hobbies is also taking shots at Ford as often as possible. I’ve actually considered putting a couple of Excursions in the back field to shoot at from time to time. Seriously.
       
      Where your point goes astray, however, is that OnStar is strictly a hands-free calling system. So far, OnStar doesn’t have anything to do with environmental controls or the stereo or all the other stuff that SYNC is involved with.
       
      I happen to disagree with Mr. Z71 here, but I come to Ford’s defense only begrudgingly.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Efficient or safer multi-tasking means having the ability to prioritize and shift percentage of attention between distractions and driving. Those not good at shifting task priorities have probably already had accidents while tuning the radio, inserting CDs, putting on makeup, checking out babes or arguing with passengers. They’re the ones spoiling the fun for the rest of us that excel at multi-tasking.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Regulation is not to protect me from myself.  It is supposed to protect me from the actions of someone else.  In this case, i suspect that the legal team from the car manufacturers is going to be the first line of “interference”, for lack of a better word.  Already we have systems that don’t function with the car in motion.  I think that intelligent integration and man/machine interface design like Ford’s Sync will help.  Poor integration like first gen iDrive will make the issue worse.  At any rate, as more and more cases of distracted driving accidents occur, the push for more regulation will only grow.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    For the first part, I fear the answer is yes – and it will be timed and presented to cause as much uproar as possible while other legislation is quietly rammed through. For the second part, I say absolutely not; I despise laws and regulations designed to protect idiots from themselves. There is no system foolproof enough it cannot be defeated by a sufficiently great fool.

    The first order of business when driving – is driving. I’ve often added a minute or 2 to my travel times by simply sitting in a running vehicle until I felt I was in the proper frame of mind to begin my journey. On the few occasions when I am driving a car belonging to someone else, I take time to ensure I know where the important subsystems (lights, turn signal controls, parking/emergency brake, mirror/window controls) are located – and I shut off the radio until I’m more familiar with the system. While the proliferation of new connectivity/information/entertainment systems in modern automobiles can be a distraction, they won’t be for those drivers who are serious about learning what their system can do and how to do it, and knowing which parts shouldn’t be attempted at all while in command of a motor vehicle.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Of course the Federal government cannot, hence should not. There is absolutely no federal level threats emanating from distracted driving i the first place. It’s all local. Expecting a bunch of self appointed progressive yahoos to have even the remotest idea of what potentially useful restrictions would be, is about as silly as it gets. Just let a thousand local approaches be tried, and then residents/voters of each locality can learn from each other.
     
    Of course the same goes for at least 90% of what those in that busybody leech colony by the Potomac occupies their, and by force others, time with; so fat chance many over there would ever fall prey to such exquisite demonstrations of common sense and logical reasoning.
     

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Let the carmakers self-regulate on this issue.

  • avatar
    Durishin

    They government will HAVE to regulate.
    I am an auto enthusiast, a road cyclist and a proud conservative.  I have seen in the cycling world that drivers rarely are prosecuted when they are at fault in a bicycle – vehicle “interaction”…even when the cyclist is killed (stats show that motorists are responsible for vehicle/bike accidents about half of the time).
    Since the laws aren’t enforced it is better – i believe – to regulate from the Federal level. I can’t believe I wrote that…but I did!


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