By on July 8, 2010

We’ve devoted considerable bandwidth here at TTAC to the inevitable conflict between Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s campaign against distracted driving and the ever-increasing array of distractions offered by popular in-car electronic systems like Ford’s SYNC. While automakers are forever striving to offer more and more connectivity, politicians are waking to the realization that these systems prevent drivers from focusing on their driving. And now, it appears, Ford is finally getting on the same page as the pols. The DetNews reports that SYNC-equipped 2011 Fords will come with a “do not disturb” feature that

locks out capabilities “not relevant to the task of driving while the vehicle is in motion.” Ford also is barring any action that requires typing on a keypad and limiting lists of navigation and phone choices to fewer entries — like phone contacts or recent phone calls.

With this pre-emptive strike, Ford is trying to protect a system it says helps sell cars from regulation as a dangerous in-car distraction. Will a “do not disturb” button really help prevent accidents? Ford had better hope so, and it had better hope the data comes in looking mighty conclusive. Otherwise, systems like SYNC could find themselves on the wrong side of Washington DC in the near future.

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26 Comments on “Ford SYNC Now Available With Feature-Disabling Feature...”

  • avatar

    Well…it’s about time. It is pretty careless for Ford to encourage distracted driving through sync…billing it as safer than holding the phone to your ear. Anybody with an IQ of above 2 will tell you that the act of holding something to your ear is not what’s unsafe about talking and driving…it’s the act of being active in a conversation.

    I would not be at all surprised if Ford was the subject of a lawsuit where someone was injured because they were using Ford’s ‘safer’ method of distracted driving of ‘syncing’ their phone to the car’s radio and having the radio/phone talk to them, read them tweets/texts, etc.

    The only thing that should be allowed while driving is the ‘push button, say song, song is then played’ feature. While stupid, that is the safest action sync can perform while driving.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, but I don’t need all that “connectivity” to a cloud bubble of information while I am driving.

      DIS-connect and drive!

    • 0 avatar

      You got it man!

      Too bad more people don’t use that amount of common sense when they are driving.

    • 0 avatar

      The technology to distract yourself while driving already exists in a myriad of handheld devices, all Sync does it makes it easier and safer to use them all so that you can spend more time keeping your eyes on the road, and less time fiddling with a phone, iPod, or portable nav system.

      It’s like the whole teaching safe sex argument – yes abstinence is the safest choice, but people are going to get it on regardless, and if they are going to do so, they should use condom.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh please Nully,

      I don’t need to check my friends facebook status to see if they have wokenup and had coffee yet. I can wait till I’m at my destination. I don’t care how or what SYNC does to enable you to check such nonsense while driving.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m going to have to go on-side NulloModo, and for the same reason that I agree that driver training and cellphone bans won’t stop people from texting on the road. We may as well accept that instant-on communication is going to be a fact of life and mitigate it’s effects rather than pretend it doesn’t exist or wish it would go away.

      SYNC is a very good way to make the complex and multifaceted world on in-car electronics just work, and work without tying you to nonsense like Onstar that requires you to maintain a separate phone number for your car, or the ergonomic disasters that are the Germans’ attempts at this.

      I’d love something like SYNC; something that would read me the contents of my emails as I get them and let me dial by voice without having to deal with the hacked-on BlueTooth set I use now. Not having to pull off the road and read an “urgent” message would be a real timesaver and, for people without that kind of discipline, a lifesaver as well.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen a little bit of info about Ford’s “smart key” technology intended to restrict teens from doing certain things, can you lockout parts of SYNC for them? Given their accident rates I don’t know if I even want them to be able to use certain features while the car is parked!

  • avatar

    Driving a loaner Acura TSX with navigation today, as compared to my older TSX with navigation, it can indeed become a bit confusing and distracting. However, when I first got my TSX it was confusing and distracting as well. Any vehicle you drive daily you will become familiar enough with to use the navigation/phone/stereo without a second thought.

    I happen to think these systems improve my driving experience. I’m not foolish enough to enter a new destination or queue up a new song while merging onto the freeway or going into a busy intersection, but there are plenty of times when you can use the system without detriment.

    The only people who should not be using these types of systems are those like my boss, who needs to be reminded weekly how to send an e-mail attachment. If you don’t get it, you shouldn’t use it.

  • avatar

    What about when there is a passenger in the vehicle? I don’t currently have SYNC, but usually I drive and my wife Navigates, adjusting the GPS as needed, often while the vehicle is moving. It sounds like that would not be an option with Ford’s new system.

    • 0 avatar

      RickM – I assume they use the same system as the one used to detect whether the passenger side air bag is needed – a weight sensor.

      I thought the whole idea of SYNC was voice control, why push buttons when you can just tell the system what you want “call home”, “play music”, “air conditioning please” and so on.

  • avatar

    I looked at a Fusion a couple years ago and the mere existence of the SYNC system was one of the things that made me look elsewhere (ended up buying a used Honda Accord preferring to buy Made in Ohio to Hecho en Mexico). Likewise, the existence of OnStar has been a minor contributing factor to my avoidance of GM products (the major factor was the memory of an early 1980s Oldsmobile Diesel).

    For crying out loud, it’s a car not an electronics toy. And, no, I don’t want to be connected to anything or anybody while I’m driving. Seriously, can’t all or most of the functions of SYNC or OnStar be provided by off-the-shelf items (GPS, cellphones, bluethooth headsets, etc.) that can be personalized and moved with the owner from vehicle to vehicle as required?

    • 0 avatar

      Not to mention that these in-dash nav systems are disgustingly overpriced and not nearly as good as the $160.00 Tim Tom you can buy at Wal-Mart.

      Sync is not a very good system and Ford should be condemned for encouraging people to drive while distracted.

      What’s next Ford? An in-car keg cooler with a tap next to the shifter?

  • avatar

    While most of the Sync functions can be duplicated by portable add-on devices, none of them integrate as cleanly nor work as well as the Sync system.

    First of all, if you don’t want to use it, don’t use it. You have to pair your phone before it will connect the first time, so if you don’t want call coming through the car hands free, just never pair your phone.

    Locking out the button controls shouldn’t be a problem because one of Sync’s biggest strengths has been how well the voice recognition works and how full featured the list of voice commands is. With a current 2010 model with the navigation system you can access any function of the navigation, entertainment, or phone and most climate related functions through a voice command. The upcoming 2011 models allow more natural voice commands so that you don’t have to go into submenus to activate certain choices (although the 2010s already have the capability to chain commands, you can say for example ‘Destination Greek Restaurant’ and have it pull up a list of all Greek restaurants in the area with one command).

    With the Sync apps people can use the voice commands to do things they were doing already, but do them safer by keeping their eyes on the road. With the Pandora integration for example, you no longer have to take your eyes off the road to look down at your phone to change channels or skip a song, you can use the radio controls just as if you were listening to AM/FM or Sirius.

    Educatordan –

    While on the surface it seems like it might make sense to lock out certain features, having them accessible via voice command in Sync is going to be less distracting that having the teen driver try to do the same things with their phone handset while driving. Most of what you can do in Sync can be done through handheld devices or the cars regular controls, Sync just makes it easier to do it all while keeping your eyes up front on the road.

    Findude –

    A lot of people like things to be integrated and streamlined so as not have to use a bunch of separate devices for separate functions. You can buy a Garmin or Tom Tom for a hundred bucks and suction cup it to your windshield, then transfer it car to car, but that solution is a bit inelegant, and a lot of people don’t like the look of things hanging off of their windshield or sticking on top of their dash, or they don’t want the hassle of pulling it down, putting it in the glove box, and pulling it back out every time they want to use it or park. Wearing an actual bluetooth headset while driving would seem uncomfortable to me, but then again, I don’t like wearing them in any situation. There are clip on solutions you can put on your visor, but sound quality and the microphones are usually sub-par. When you call someone on Sync usually the person on the other end can’t even tell you are using a hands free device.

  • avatar

    Not to worry – the electronics lobby is already moving to protect your right to talk, text and fiddle with your stereo all at the same time.

  • avatar

    Blaming Ford for pushing the distraction envelope with Sync is just stupid. The connectivity – infotainment (distraction) thing has been in full swing for quite a while but fractured between nav/phone/ipod/car systems. If anything Sync is the best well rounded effort to integrate a complete system for the sake of less distraction. Good for Ford to bring it in at all levels of their product line.

  • avatar

    Let’s face it folks, like so many other areas of our lives, there will be more computerized integration and interfaces with our cars.

    I have GM cars, so I don’t have SYNC, but I do have OnStar on my car, and have many of the same capabilities as SYNC, and the same distractions, too.

    I personally like the integration of all of these devices, as I think it makes my driving experience easier. I don’t have a GPS head unit (my car is an older design), but we have the turn by turn nav which works well for us. I like the fact that I can ask my car to find a restaurant and make reservations for us before we get there; the hands free phone is very useful, too.

    I have called OnStar to run a systems verification to make sure my car was functioning properly when I thought there was a problem. I like the idea that I can call OnStar and have them warn me of severe weather in my area and re-route me around problem areas. I can use OnStar to report an accident and summon help for others.

    If it ever comes to it, I like the idea that they would send help if the airbags go off in the car. All of those capabilities are very comforting when my wife and kids go off on a 10 hour trip to see the grandparents…

    But like other people have noted, if you don’t want to be distracted, don’t use the stuff.

  • avatar

    I think it would be interesting if instead of turning off features, it would just log what features were in use and when they were used. This could be accessible by a parent, or by an accident investigator. As some have pointed out, I have no issue if you’re using this stuff down a mind-numbingly dull stretch of freeway, but if you’re futzing and rear-end me, expect a subpoena for that log that will help place blame rightfully on your shoulders.

  • avatar

    This isn’t any surprise to me. Most infotainment-GPS systems have some lockouts to prevent distracting function from being used. My Subaru navigation doesn’t allow fiddling with the equalizer, typing addresses, phone numbers, or watching DVDs while driving. At least it didn’t until I fiddled with some wiring to unlock it. Now my fiancee can do stuff while I drive.

    There will always be the struggle between factory integrated vs portable devices. Integration is more seamless, and portable devices can be more up to date technology that is useful outside the car. The integrated Nav in my Subaru can do a few things that my Garmin doesn’t do: larger map screen with more info, trip computer, dead reckoning via sensors when GPS is flaky, bluetooth phone through the speakers etc. And there really is no portable device that can do the kind of integration that SYNC does.

    The integration usually costs though. For $1800 I passed on the Nav when I bought my Subaru. For less than a 1/4 of the cost I later bought a stock Nav unit and swapped it in, for that price it is well worth it. I think either the profit margin is high, or the development costs are more than I figure. Subaru is using a couple generations old Kenwood platform when you can buy newer tech for less in the aftermarket.

    The SYNC is so much more integrated you have to think about it when you are buying the car. Voice commands also make it very easy to use.

    • 0 avatar

      And it’s worth noting that Sync itself is very cheap. It come standard on most mid and high trim levels, and even on base trim cars it’s only a $400 option. Now, the full on Navigation system is quite a bit more, but even with the regular Sync option you get three free years of turn by turn directions like what OnStar does.

    • 0 avatar

      $400 dollars for a gimmick that allows you to talk to your radio.

      That is such a waste of money. Not to mention that the technology has a LONG way to go to become something that’s worth paying for.

      I was at my local Ford appliance store, in a Flex (they’ve sold so few, I had to remember what they look like), and that stupid SYNCh system did not do one thing I asked it to. It really needs a lot of work.

    • 0 avatar

      Z71 –

      Sync does pretty much everything OnStar does, plus more. It also gives the turn by turn directions free for three years, as opposed to just one, and if you want all of the expanded services like directions, traffic, etc, it’s about $50 per year, as opposed to $300 for the OnStar option, and you don’t have to have a separate cell plan to use the in-car phone.

      Regarding your inability to use what is universally heralded as the simplest and most full featured system on the market with the best voice recognition support, all I can say is it only accepts commands in English, French, or Spanish, but if you keep your fingers crossed maybe they will add support for Troll sometime soon.

    • 0 avatar

      $400 dollars for a gimmick that allows you to talk to your radio. That is such a waste of money.

      My $400, my prerogative.

      I’ve never used SYNC, but if it’s like other voice recognition systems I’ve used, you can’t truly evaluate it by spending a short time with it on the showroom floor. Most system require a short time in “training mode” to learn your voice, and then adopt to it over time. Also, there’s no way to truly appreciate the value of any such feature until you’ve used it for some time.

  • avatar

    Good window dressing.

    The aftermarket/savvy user can find their way around these restrictions through software hacks…or maybe by cutting the speed signal wire between the SYNC module and the engine computer.

  • avatar

    It didn’t take long for people to start posting their judgments as to whether or not people need technology in their cars…as I’ve said it before, Motorola fought the same battles in the 1930s over car radios.

    Navigation, as well as other smart phone features, will continue to be integrated into vehicles, period. If the manufacturers can’t do it, the aftermarket will. I think that most of us would rather have drivers accessing information from steering wheel-mounted controls and seeing the information on the instrument panel, because – regardless of how “illegal” you make it – the alternative is using the phone’s touchscreen and tiny display.

    As for distractions, one could argue that manual transmissions are an accident waiting to happen. After all, the attention given to selecting gears is better spent focusing on the road. Ditto for ashtrays…keeping track of a cigarette diverts your attention. And cupholders? Don’t drink and drive; that includes bottled water.

    But seriously, what I find really irksome is how most audio/GPS/Bluetooth systems are inconsistent in their way of restricting what you can do while the vehicle is moving. For example, I can’t scroll past the first screen of the destinations I’ve pre-programmed into the GPS, yet I can scroll through six screens of radio presets, and hundreds of songs on my iPod/iPhone (not that I ever do). I don’t care if the decision is to have total freedom or total lockdown while the vehicle is moving, just be consistent!

    • 0 avatar

      You have some good points. It’s the 21st century, anyone born in the 80s or later has grown up with tons of technology and tons of information flying at them all the time, and is more used to dealing with that information than previous generations.

      Safety technology has also increased rapidly in cars. Vehicles now can detect other cars in their blindspots, automatically slow you down if you start gaining to fast on the car in front of you, and even keep you in your lane if you start to drift. None of that is a replacement for good old fashioned attention and observation while on the road, but it all helps.

      Plus, not everyone talking on the phone in the car is doing it for frivolous reasons. This day in age in many professions you are expected to be reachable nearly 24/7. My business cards have my cell phone number on them, and if I miss a call I might miss a sale, and that is my livelihood. It doesn’t matter if I am on my way to work, at work, or hanging out with some friends after work, if a customer or potential customer calls, I need to be able to take the call.

      With the Sync screen lockouts though – again, it isn’t a big deal. The biggest benefit of Sync is the voice commands. Once you spend a little bit of time with the system the voice commands are much easier to use than the touchscreen for nearly anything. When I’ve driving a Sync equipped car I rarely use the buttons, the voice commands are just quicker and easier all around.

    • 0 avatar

      Plus, not everyone talking on the phone in the car is doing it for frivolous reasons.


      My significant other has a colleague who is a gifted transplant surgeon. One time we were dining with him when he got a call, which he took by politely excusing himself and walking outside the restaurant.

      Another diner was incensed by his “rudeness.” What I wish she could have known is that he probably saved a young woman’s life with that phone call. It was telling him that a liver was being flown in within the next hour, and that he was needed immediately for surgery.

      Yet another reason why I get less judgmental of outward appearances as I grow older…

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