AT&T Wireless has been campaigning against texting and driving, including bringing its texting-while-driving simulator (above) to high schools. While it makes sense for mobile operators (AT&T won a Cannes Lion nod for its efforts; LG has also been promoting "Text Ed") to take on the issue of safe driving, it also behooves automakers to step up.
After all, as cars get closer to being iPads on wheels, it's the technologies and systems designed to make vehicle "infotainment" easier and more attractive that are also distracting to drivers. Just this week, for instance, Hyundai debuted a new mobile application for its Blue Link platform that allows subscribers to remotely access various features and services through compatible mobile devices.
But auto brands operating in the U.S. market could be on a collision course with federal regulators who keep warning them not to make the in-car information experience too rich or distracting.
"If the auto manufacturers focused as much on safety as they do on marketing their products, we would save a lot of lives," Deborah Hersman, chairman of the federal National Transportation Safety Board, told Automotive News. With accidents and road deaths increasing due to texting and driving, promoting safe driving and educating consumers (and particularly young drivers) could become a core part of automakers' corporate citizenship efforts, too.
Since Ford launched Sync a few years ago, automakers have been attempting to leapfrog one another to provide the most digital-rich environments in their vehicles, at the same time that they say they've been striving to keep the driving experience safe by emphasizing hands-free operation and voice activiation of infotainment features. GM, Nissan and Audi are also embracing in-car systems that access social media updates and sharing.
Of course, everyone understands that even if they're "hands-free," the capabilities of these systems inherently create more distractions for the driver. So far, the U.S. government has only encouraged the industry to voluntarily heed its concerns, using suggested guidelines but not attempting to restrict any activities just yet. Friday is the deadline for industry and public comment on the proposed voluntary standards.
In 2010, more than 3,000 people, or 9 percent of road fatalities, were killed in crashes related to driver distraction, the government says. While just about every other aspect of vehicle and driver safety is getting stronger, distraction remains a soft spot.
Hyundai's new device won't be the last this year or maybe even this month. But each brand is going to have to figure out how to drive an increasingly perilous path on the issue of driver distraction.