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Is the Car Becoming a Cell Phone on Four Wheels?

Distracted driving has recently become popular on soft news days for journalists who otherwise analyze the contentious social and cultural issues of the moment. Their distracted driving articles, however, have an emotional tone. After citing all the statistics, the sources, and the efforts to curb this dangerous but widespread behaviour, they argue for the tough-on-crime approach.

Elizabeth Renzetti, for example, in the June 8th Globe and & Mail ended her article, “Texting addicts drive me to distraction” with the following: “Among all the possible solutions, from disabling cell signals in cars to better driver education, emphasizing criminality might just be the way to go. Much higher fines, much stiffer penalties…”

Meanwhile, however, as the car industry focuses on enhancing your dashboard with your smartphone capabilities that may get much worse before there is any hope of eliminating this growing risk. The industry’s goal, after all, is to provide all the functionality of your phone, all its apps, all its contacts…all of this essential information to which you are clearly reliant upon at your fingertips or awaiting your voice activating commands while you are driving.

Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay are the software to which the car manufacturers are reacting, mindful, too, of the fact that both Google and Apple seem to regard the vehicle ‘wrapping’ around this software as just more hardware, the design of which they too could master.

Last week, the news services reported Toyota and Ford had formally agreed “to explore collaboration for the implementation of Ford’s SmartDeviceLink (SDL) technology in future Toyota and Lexus vehicles.” The report explained that SDL is “an open source platform that integrates smartphone apps with vehicles through dashboard buttons, display screens, and voice recognition technology.”

Ford’s Don Butler, Executive Director, Ford Connected Vehicle and Services said, “Dashboard interface design and smartphone connectivity are key elements for product differentiation within the industry. At Ford, we view all aspects of time behind the wheel as core to the experience we provide customers. We’re pleased other members of the industry feel the same way, and look forward to working together to drive even more support for the SDL developer community”.

Toyota’s Senior Managing Officer, Shigeki Terashi, said, “We continue to investigate new technologies that both enhance and safeguard the driving experience of Toyota and Lexus owners. The in-car app market is quickly evolving. Developing robust, flexible, safe and user-friendly connected services is a priority for us, and one that we believe is shared by Ford, Livio — a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ford and the company overseeing all aspects of SDL development —and other contributors to SDL technology.”

Other car manufacturers are also responding to the plans announced by Google and Apple. Chevrolet and Hyundai will offer Android Auto and CarPlay in their models. In India, Mahindra, — India’s premier utility vehicle company, which also now produces cars, electric vehicles, pickups, and commercial vehicles sold in Australia, Europe, Latin America, Malaysia, South Korea, and South Africa will use Google’s Android Auto in its upcoming car models, notably the XUV 500 and the Scorpio.

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