By on September 16, 2010

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.

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16 Comments on “Onstar: Facebook Features Could Be Unsafe...”

  • avatar

    Am I the only one reminded of Edvard Munch’s “Scream” by the still for this video?

    As regards OnStar and Facebook in the car…Keep it. I don’t need or want it and will probably end up having to buy the most base model of any car (if made by GM) in the future in order to avoid having it.

  • avatar

    Mancuso is so full of bullshit, and I am disgusted. the notion that drivers could go on facebook without being distracted is as nutty as saying that GM will come out with cars driven by perpetual motion machines.

  • avatar

    Stuff like this is why GM will fail again. They don’t get it even now. This will be dangerous, will have horrendous libaliity consequences when some one inevitably crashes while using it and is a distraction from the business of designing better automobiles.

    OnStar is a very big reason I wouldn’t consider a GM vehicle even if the bailout would never have happened. As I said before Chrysler has a better future. There management is better and they are appear to be focused on product not on useless toys.

  • avatar

    “Onstar: Facebook Features Could Be Unsafe…”
    Wow..they figured this out. What’s next “Lack of Oxygen Could Be Unsafe”?
    So what’s the plan when Facebook goes way of 8 tracks and My Space?

  • avatar

    Until and unless resultant litigation for death and injury holds automakers liable, I’m quite sure Mancuso’s waffling is pure BS. GM will want to implement these features to outdo other manufacturers on the “way cool stuff” curve that will ultimately increase road hazards. The irony is that we’re currently in a statistical period where highway deaths are declining, so pushback on these bad ideas won’t be taken seriously any time soon. Any criticism will be seen as media hype.

  • avatar

    “Does anyone actually believe that this will be the outcome, now that GM and Onstar have begun hyping these features?”

    No, it won’t.  Remember how they brought the Aztek to market?  It was like they did their focus group after they had already determined the design of the vehicle.  The same thing will happen here.  They’ll do some BS study that concludes that it’s perfectly safe in a controlled environment (or safer compared to texting and driving), and roll it out anyway.

  • avatar

    My smartphone already does everything they’re talking about. I think their time would be better spent developing a good in-dash mounting/docking system for phones. Come up with some sort of ISO dock and let the phone makers develop phone specific carriers.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Maybe I’m an old fart, but I find this very disturbing, because it flows from the basic premise that driving an automobile does not require all of a person’s attention, so some of that attention can be safely occupied doing other things.
    Recently, I saw a Mercedes-Benz ad featuring an “interview” with an attractive blonde woman effusing praise about how wonderful Benz’s “lane departure warning” is.
    If you’re drifting out of your lane, it seems to me that there are only two possible causes, both of them bad: (1) you’re seriously impaired by drugs, alcohol or lack of sleep or (2) you’re not competent to drive the vehicle you’re operating without adult supervision.
    Either way, you should pull off the road and let someone else drive . . . or call a cab.
    Or maybe we need lane departure warning to allow people to “safely” update their Facebook pages at 75 mph!

  • avatar

    This is really a reaction to Ford’s system that allows you to do the same thing with Facebook.  While I don’t believe either system is a good idea to have in a car, I would also bring Ford system into this, considering it is available already.

  • avatar

    It would be much safer if everyone was just reading Wikipedia articles while driving.

  • avatar

    Facebook can friggin’ wait until you aren’t behind the wheel!!! Nothing is more important than DRIVING. There are a few things like GPS that are worth a little distraction (glancing at the screen) but certainly nothing like Facebook.
    GM doesn’t get it and I won’t buy anything that comes so equipped. GM is just trying to find a way to keep OnStar equipped vehicles subscribed after the initial freebie period expires. I have several relatives and friends who thought the service was neat but did not want to pay for the service once the free period was up. Heck my parents bought a Corvette nearly new and have never even turned on the in-dash GPS. Still don’t understand why they bought a loaded out vehicle like the ‘Vette. They don’t use anything beyond cruise and A/C.

  • avatar

    My ’08 Saab 9-3 came afflicted with OnStar – not only did I never so much as push the button, I paid $90 to get the dash trim without the hole for the Onstar buttons and got rid of the control unit entirely. Useless crap, with a bright green LED pointed thoughtfully at my eye.

    At least in ’09 Saab smartened up and started fitting Bluetooth to the 9-3. And now in the ’10 models Onstar is a $350 option that seems to be rarely fitted to the cars.

  • avatar

    To the question of if we would pull the plug on this if we felt it didn’t solve at some level the issue of texting, the answer is we absolutely will.  We studied three years of hands free calling data, which is where we launch this ap, and found that not only was there NO incidence of increased air bag deployments, we actually found the studied sample was safer than the control group.  This was a surprise.  What I’m finding in the debate here is people are aligning generationally on this….those who hate social media in general are crapping all over it, people who are hooked on social media love it.  The question we have to answer is simply whether this is helping the cause of safe driving, or hurting it.  If endeavoring to use real world information and facts to determine this is seen as a bad thing (as some seem to feel here), than I guess we’ll endure the scorn.  We’re a brand built on safety and security…that’s what we do, that’s what people buy.  You never betray your brand values…we won’t here. 

    As for the folks who think we’re following Sync, the reality is the systems are apples and oranges.  We’ve been at this for 15 years…we have nearly 6 million active subscribers and the business is extremely positive for our vehicle brands…and very profitable.  We telegraphed very clearly that OnStar can play in non-subscription based services by blending the best of what an imbedded telematic device and the IT backbone brings, alongside a tethered smart phone with an HMI infotainment system.  We’re building around that ability and will make more news soon.  Add in our ability to provide true vehicle control through phone aps/web and bring in a live adviser…it’s a great product.  At the end of the day, this is a very intense and competitive area for the industry…we intend to appeal to the most connected parts of the youth market, all the way up to those who won’t even connect a phone to Bluetooth….just push the blue button and talk to a living human being.

    Hope this helps….

    Chris Preuss

    • 0 avatar

      “The question we have to answer is simply whether this is helping the cause of safe driving, or hurting it.”

      We understand the question. What I’m hearing in your response, Chris, is that GM is committed to pursuing a direction which ultimately allows drivers the choice to do something other than driving when behind the wheel of vehicles (correct, not just yours) that maim and kill tens of thousands every year already. There’s a big difference between putting airbags in vehicles to sustain life in a crash and enabling people to continue their addicted ability to remain connected 24/7 – and you’re equating these in the interests of safety.

      I just wonder, and truly nothing personal here: If Ford was found liable for millions of dollars in damages for death and injury directly related to Ford drivers focusing on Sync instead of driving, how quickly would these systems be pulled from the options list and GM’s OnStar apps group be in jeopardy?

      The real question is, does this all make sense at a very foundational level?

  • avatar


    Based on that logic…and nothing personal from my side either…we should elminate radios, not allow passengers, ban cell phones 100 percent, bar pets and anything else that could distract.  The issue is that people will text and post to social media…that’s a fact.  If we can mitigate that impact, we’re taking a look.  The data is the data….we have great experience here with what we can read in the diagnostics.  At the foundational level, we have distraction…that’s only going to get worse…why is bad to look at this within the technology we offer?  I appreciate the thoughts….

    • 0 avatar

      Well I don’t know what you drive but I choose to keep my car simple enough that the radio and the portable GPS are the most complex parts of the interior.
      I don’t know about banning all those gadgets. I don’t like bans and laws. We’ve got plenty of laws on the books now. I would like to see more people demonstrating wisdom and common sense. I’m for encouraging people to drive and leave the gadgets for red lights, restaurant drive-thrus and the vehicle passengers.
      My HVAC controls amount to three knobs that I can operate without looking. The windows are power. No looking required. My stereo has preset stations for the station I prefer around here. In another city I’d likely push the “scan’ button and listen until I find something I like. As must as I dislike commercial radio these days I tend to listen to a CDs instead. Sometimes I am content with no music or talk at all for hours. These things I can do with my eyes on the road. Or leave to my passenger. My GPS talks and accepts voice commands though I generally dial in my destination before I start moving. Am only using the GPS out of town as my town is well memorized by me.
      I refuse to carry a cellphone. Occasionally I carry my wifes or those calls home – “what was the fifth ingredient you needed?” I don’t personally own a cellphone. People that know me call me in my office at work or at home on the house phone. Don’t understand why people have to be on their phones continuously. Get a hands free kit anyhow.
      I’m not a luddite. I’m the technology guy at work and maintain a machine shop, labs and all the computers plus more. I’m also not a timid driver. I lived for three years in southern Italy where red lights were mere suggestions and sidewalks were occasionally ways around buses (or ways to get away from the buses). I can drive – trust me.

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