The Truth About Cars » Cell Phone The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:26:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Cell Phone Super Piston Slap: New Tricks For an Old Car Phone? (Part II) Tue, 25 Jun 2013 12:00:33 +0000

Sajeev writes:

I wasn’t expecting a “Part II” for this story: converting an analog phone to digital sounds comically nonsensical these days.  But did you know that people once spent big money, back in the day big dawg money, so a (car) phone they’ve trusted for years lived to see another day…in the digital age?

Such a story landed in my Inbox. You know you wanna click ‘dat link to learn more!

Steve writes:


How this article brought back memories. I once worked for a wireless carrier, who shall remain nameless, during the turn of the digital wireless age. I was a “Wireless Device Technician” AKA the guy that fixed crap. As technicians we were responsible for many things, including but not limited to installing hands free kits into patron’s vehicles.

Now at this particular juncture in the wireless world, you had those who refused to convert and so the games begin.

We were first and foremost responsible with attempting to make those individuals change over to a new wireless plan, including a new device such as a Motorola Startac, which had an exceptional hands free kit we could install to your late-model vehicle.


Long story short, it was likely that if a person owned a vehicle that already had a phone in it, they weren’t going to buy another one.

The conversion wars began. Patrons would pay for new digital boxes and conversion kits, plus install labor just to use the old device. Several hundred dollars later, you had a satisfied wireless device user who probably was only on their phone for 20 mins a month. But, nonetheless, they had service.

At least it wasn’t as bad as the one day a guy brought in one of these bad boys, asking if it can be repaired and used still.

BAG Phone: the true wireless device.



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Super Piston Slap: New Tricks For an Old Car Phone? Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:00:39 +0000

It started innocently enough: Derek Kreindler posted the above photo on Facebook for nothing more than a few social media lulz. Which triggered a memory on my end of Al Gore’s Internet: of a cellular phone residing in the console of my Lincoln Mark VIII. Even worse, it reminded me of the way-cool hack to make it work in the digital age. The conversation went downhill from there, and the boss man suggested I blog all about it. Won’t you join me in the cellular madness?

Before I start: my Mark VIII never came with a cell phone.  But I, the upwardly “mobile” (tee-hee, get it?) junkyard dog that I am, grabbed most of the functional bits from a crusher bound Mark VIII: phone-handset, the plastic cradle, and a voice activated A-pillar speaker/button assembly for about $20.  It plugs and plays, if I grabbed the module from the trunk.  Provided that black box was actually worth something. It is not, especially if you upgraded to an aftermarket stereo.

So I, much like The Esteemed Mr. Kreindler, just did it to show off. Or look stupid. Either way, this system commands attention. Especially if someone looks at the A-pillar.

The result is some sort of highbrow-historical respect: last year a friend borrowed the Mark. Upon noticing the brick inside the center console she busted out the Android, expressing glee from her first encounter with a gen-u-wine cellular car phone. Smartphone texting about an analog phone: now ain’t that some shit?

Imagine a fantabulous world where you could re-use this impressive (looking) system in today’s fully digital society! Queue the obligatory Panther Love:

Click here to view the embedded video.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, this video shows how cell phones from the Golden (Dark?) Age of In-Car communication need not go gentle into that good night.  The obscenely talented and/or tragically bored among us can convert the analog system to digital…and still run the factory’s “hands free operation” gadgets. Like, awesome.

Which begs the question: would you make the change, teach an old dog new tricks, if you could? And would it be less annoying/obnoxious than many newer in-car entertainment systems?

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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NHTSA Releases New Distracted Driving Guidelines As Data Presents A Very Different Picture Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:54:45 +0000

As part of their campaign against “distracted driving”, NHTSA has released new voluntary guidelines governing the use of in-car infotainment systems.

Among the core of the recommendations, as reported by Automotive News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically recommended disabling several operations unless a vehicle is stopped and in park:

• Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing

• Video-based entertainment and communications such as video phoning or video conferencing

• Displaying certain types of text, including text messages, Web pages, and social-media content

Also recommended are guidelines for how many times drivers can touch a screen within a set time limit (6 touches for 12 seconds) to change things like the radio station or temperature.

Meanwhile, Juan Barnett over at DC Auto Geek has been compiling data on “distracted driving” for some time now, and when one really dives into it, it’s clear that cell phones and hand-held devices are really a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. Barnett previously lent TTAC a handy infographic that breaks down the causes behind “distracted driving”, while a recent guest post at Jalopnik provides a more in-depth examination of NHTSA’s own data.

Barnett shows that NHTSA’s data is full of vague catch-all categories, but the number of distracted driving events related to cell-phone use could be as high as 12 percent at best – and that’s when all cell phone category events are aggregated. Texting, as a specific category, accounts for just 1 percent of all distracted driving events. 39 Americans died from texting and driving in 2011, while 45 Americans died from syphilis, a disease that is generally considered a non-entity.

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Feds Push NY Towards Full Ban On Electronic Devices In Cars Wed, 15 Feb 2012 20:35:02 +0000

Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).

And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action.

Hart says enforcement will be a major topic of an NTSB forum, scheduled for March 27 (note: the forum is not yet listed on the NTSB’s events page). With the NTSB pushing hard on what was once largely a rhetorical issue, goading the notoriously-nannying New York government towards a full ban on in-car device use, this forum should be a good measure of the feds’ resolve.

After all, everyone knows that distracted driving is wrong (with the possible exception of automakers, who load ever more distractions into their cars)… it’s just a question of how much government intrusion would be necessary to stop it. If Ray LaHood’s minions go for broke and pursue an enforcement rather than an education approach at their forum (as they did with their NY pilot program), this debate could blow up into pitched political warfare overnight.

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California Court Criminalizes Using Cell Phone While Stopped Thu, 17 Nov 2011 15:33:42 +0000

In a decision with wide-ranging implications for people who might check their email on an iPhone while stopped at a traffic light, the California Court of Appeal ruled Monday that it was a crime to use a phone at any time behind the wheel of a stationary or moving vehicle.

Three days after Christmas in 2009, a motorcycle cop in Richmond pulled up to a red light and noticed Carl Nelson, driver of the stopped car next to him, appeared to be making a cell phone call. Nelson put down the phone as soon as he saw the officer. Nelson said he was just checking his email while waiting for the light to turn green. The Golden State banned the use of handheld cell phones while driving in July 2008.

“A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using a wireless telephone unless that telephone is specifically designed and configured to allow hands-free listening and talking, and is used in that manner while driving,” the law states.

A subsequent update to the statute made it also illegal to read or write an email while driving. Nelson was fined $103, and he challenged the fine by arguing that he was not “driving” when he used the phone. He added that if the prosecutors were correct, drivers stuck in dead-stop traffic for hours behind a major accident would not be allowed to make a call while the road is cleared.

“One can [use] a cell phone while stopped at a red light (because it is safe to do so) without having used it while moving the vehicle to the red light and without using it when one resumes one’s voyage after the traffic light turns green,” Nelson argued. “Thus, the fact that one is using a cellular phone while stationary simply cannot give rise to a reasonable inference that one was using the phone before or after the period that one was stopped at a red light.”

The three-judge appellate panel was not persuaded. It argued that the word “drive” applies even when the vehicle is stopped at a traffic light, citing a number of cases interpreting search and seizure and drunk driving laws.

“Any mom or dad driving kids to school can expect to stop while parents in cars in front of them are unloading their kids,” Justice James A. Richman wrote in a concurring opinion. “A shopper driving to a store near Lake Merritt in Oakland may have to stop while a gaggle of geese crosses the street. A couple going for a Sunday drive in West Marin County may have to stop for a cattle crossing. And, of course, all of us are expected to stop for red lights, stop signs, crossing trains, and funeral processions. In short, all drivers may, and sometimes must, stop. But they do so while ‘driving.’ Just like defendant.”

The court majority went on to argue that allowing cell phone use in motionless vehicles would create a safety hazard.

“Were we to adopt defendant’s interpretation, we would open the door to millions of people across our state repeatedly picking up their phones and devices to place phone calls and check voicemail (or text-based messages) every day while driving whenever they are paused momentarily in traffic, their car in gear and held still only by their foot on the brake, however short the pause in the vehicle’s movement,” Justice James Lambden wrote. “This could include fleeting pauses in stop-and-go traffic, at traffic lights and stop signs, as pedestrians cross, as vehicles ahead navigate around a double-parked vehicle, and many other circumstances… Drivers paused in the midst of traffic moving all around them (behind them, in adjacent lanes, in the roadway in front of them) would likely create hazards to themselves and public safety by their distracted use of their hands on their phones and devices.”

A copy of the decision is available in a 220k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Nelson (Court of Appeal, State of California, 11/14/2011)


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Volt-Google Android Cooperation Presages Next-Gen Onstar System Tue, 18 May 2010 16:37:32 +0000

GM’s OnStar division is preparing for a big push into new info-tainment and connectivity services, and it’s launching the effort at Google’s I/O conference starting tomorrow. First up is a new Google-maps-based navigation feature for Android phones running the Chevy Volt mobile app, featured in the video above [presser here]. Though this new navigation system won’t be available at launch, but will emerge in a 2.0 version of the Volt mobile app, it hints at a new direction for OnStar, which traditionally markets itself as a safety feature. A senior (anonymous, sorry) source at GM took a moment to explain where this is all heading….

In essence, OnStar is being developed to be “seamless” with mobile smartphones, and the Volt is the guinea pig for this next generation of capabilities. In addition to the recently-added navigation features, the Volt mobile app will be able to

  • Charge status display – plugged in or not and voltage (120V or 240V)
  • Flexibility to “Charge Now” or schedule charge timing
  • Display percentage of battery charge level, electric and total ranges
  • Ability to manually set grid-friendly charge mode for off-peak times when electricity rates are lowest
  • Send text or email notifications for charge reminders, interruptions and full charge
  • Display miles per gallon, electric only miles, and odometer readings
  • Shows miles per gallon, EV miles and miles driven for last trip and lifetime
  • Remotely start the vehicle to pre-condition the interior temperature

Because OnStar can securely communicate with vehicle controls, GM believes that integrating mobile phones creates “almost no end to the cool things we can do in this space.” And that means eventually migrating these capabilities to other vehicles besides the Volt. Our source explains:

We can do this because Volt has the next-gen hardware for OnStar. That hardware goes to all GM products for 2011 model year…so of course, we’d be able to proliferate the approach.

Of course, “some infrastructure issues” are still standing in the way of an official announcement, but we’re told to expect a “re-launch” of the OnStar brand “within the next couple of months.” OnStar’s “killer app… a human being who actually thinks and acts on the other end of the blue button” will remain the centerpiece of the brand, but building infotainment and mobile integration into the next-generation of OnStar as a compliment to traditional safety-oriented features is seen as the best way to grow the brand.

And though the navigation feature that will be highlighted this week is available on Android phones only, GM isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. Apple and RIM (Blackberry) will be fully integrated as well, and a new Human Machine Interface (HMI) would not require a partnership as Android is free and open to developers. GM is apparently in talks with several outfits to develop an HMI architecture that is “truly open.”

Onstar has always been a bit of an odd duck: it’s a tech toy for people who don’t have or like tech toys. The simple function and human interaction make it ideal for the safety-conscious yet tech-unsavvy demographic… in other words, people who aren’t married to a cell phone. But as cell phones with features like navigation and roadside assistance become increasingly common, even among non-early-adopters, OnStar’s traditional mission (peace of mind) is becoming less relevant. And unlike Ford’s SYNC system, OnStar hasn’t targeted the tech-for-tech’s-sake crowd with entertainment features and phone-car integration. If the next-generation of OnStar can blend its traditional strengths with the kinds of features that allegedly brings younger buyers into SYNC with Ford, GM will be making one of many necessary steps it needs to around perceptions of its business.

After all, mobile phone culture is already leaving quite the impact on car marketing.

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IIHS: Hand-Held Cell Phone Bans Don’t Work Mon, 01 Feb 2010 17:56:17 +0000

The Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institutes For Highway Safety, reports that an audit of insurance claim filings shows no reduction in claim amounts in states with bans on cell phone use in cars. According to the report:

HLDI researchers calculated monthly collision claims per 100 insured vehicle years (a vehicle year is 1 car insured for 1 year, 2 insured for 6 months each, etc.) for vehicles up to 3 years old during the months immediately before and after hand-held phone use was banned while driving in New York (Nov. 2001), the District of Columbia (July 2004), Connecticut (Oct. 2005), and California (July 2008). Comparable data were collected for nearby jurisdictions without such bans. This method controlled for possible changes in collision claim rates unrelated to the bans — changes in the number of miles driven due to the economy, seasonal changes in driving patterns, etc.

Month-to-month fluctuations in rates of collision claims in jurisdictions with bans didn’t change from before to after the laws were enacted. Nor did the patterns change in comparison with trends in jurisdictions that didn’t have such laws.

Because the HLDI didn’t research phone usage to draw a causal connection between phone use and insurance claims, this study can’t prove whether hands-free phone use is as dangerous and handheld phoning while driving, or if the bans simply don’t limit the use of handheld phones while driving. Given the challenges of handheld phone ban enforcement and the fact that hands-free phone use hasn’t been proven to be less dangerous, either possiblity is equally likely. The HLDI concludes:

Whatever the reason, the key finding is that crashes aren’t going down where hand-held phone use has been banned. This finding doesn’t auger well for any safety payoff from all the new laws that ban phone use and texting while driving.

This ambiguity means more headaches for automakers like Ford, who hope to market hands-free capabilities like those enabled by the Sync system on fears of distracted driving. Had this study been able to find a link between hands-free laws and a decrease in insurance claims, that marketing angle might still have the strength of a fear factor behind it. But for every study like this that fails to conclusively prove the safety advantages of hands-free technology, the possibility grows that this technology will end up being seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

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