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John Day

John Day

Posted Jan 7, 2010

Readers of the New York Times were shocked – shocked – by a January 7 article headlined “Despite Risks, Internet Creeps Onto Car Dashboards.” Most of the nearly 500 Times readers who posted comments on the paper’s Web site voiced outrage that the automotive industry, in its greed and stupidity (paraphrasing here), would have the audacity to offer such disastrous wares when so much attention is already being paid to distracted driving. Outrageous.

Were Ford, Audi, and the suppliers quoted in the article expecting this?

A surprising (to me, at least) number of readers fumed that laws should be passed immediately to ban this so-called “infotainment” technology, and that car companies should be made liable for any damages caused by connected drivers. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood believes that the auto industry is “on the wrong track,” according to the article, and he intends to speak out against the idea that manufacturers are “going to load automobiles up with all kinds of ways to be distracted.”

The online version of the article was accompanied by video narrated by the reporter while he was driving. A few readers commented on the irony of the reporter frequently taking his eyes off the road in order to make eye contact with a front seat passenger. Indeed there are all kinds of ways to be distracted.

This is not to make light of distracted driving, nor to deny that wireless technology can be distracting, but are automakers and suppliers being irresponsible by developing infotainment and telematics technology – allowing people to be connected in their cars as they are everywhere else? It’s a valid topic for discussion, but the impression I have is that the industry is working hard to minimize distraction while improving driver convenience and comfort. Perhaps I’m just drinking the industry kool aid, but in my opinion this is another example of automotive electrical and electronic design engineers getting a bum rap. Your thoughts?

Distracted Driving, Ford, Audi, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Infotainment, New York Times

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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Comments 2

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I am the safety communications manager at Ford and would like to clarify what Ford is doing to help minimize the growing number of electronics-based driver distractions. At Ford, we think driver distraction is a critically important issue. Drivers experience many different types of distractions on a daily basis. Drivers are going to have conversations, read maps and directions, and listen to music while they drive. The most complete and most recent research shows that activity that draws drivers’ eyes away from the road for an extended period while driving, such as held-held manual text messaging, substantially increases the risk of accidents. Ford believes hands-free, voice-activated technology substantially reduces that risk by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Wes Sherwood
6:16 PM Jan 9, 2010

The interesting thing is, Internet connectivity can actually help reduce driver distraction. Take voice recognition, for example. By connecting to the Internet over next-gen 4G networks, a car’s infotainment unit could tap into a sophisticated server-based voice recognition system that lets the driver use natural language. Also, Internet connectivity enables a form of crowd-sourcing in which a problem experienced by some cars (e.g. traffic jam) could be uploaded to the cloud and made available to other cars, allowing drivers in those other cars to take an appropriate detour. Where's the problem in that? Internet connectivity isn't an evil; only inappropriate uses of it are.

Paul Leroux at QNX
4:19 PM Feb 3, 2010

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