Debate Rages over Safety of Connected Cars

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association nonprofit organization traffic fatalities among teen drivers rose 19 percent during the first half of last year.  Distracted driving has been blamed for a large percentage of those fatalities.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has gone so far as to call the problem of distracted driving an “epidemic.” However, some have criticized federal regulators for turning a blind eye to what some have characterized as an “arms race” to make vehicles even more connected and potentially more distracting.   The justification being offered is that the very devices that can distract motorist from focusing on driving can also make vehicles safer.

General Motors Company last week announced that it is working with AT&T to make most of its vehicles with 4G Internet connected.  In essence, the vehicles will be WiFi hot spots on wheels with the ability to connect up to eight personal mobile devices, including cell phones and laptop computers.

The new 4G service will also enhance the safety capabilities of the automaker’s OnStar service. Onstar already provides GPS information and places automated emergency calls when a vehicle is involved in a serious collision.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, advancements in onboard connectivity could reduce vehicular deaths by up to two-thirds.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is currently working with the University of Michigan to develop new technologies that could allow vehicles to connect and communicate with a roadside safety infrastructure and with other vehicles.  Google’s experimental autonomous vehicle uses radar and laser sensors make these types of communications possible, and last year Nevada began issuing special licenses for autonomous vehicles.

Intelligent Transportation Society of America president Scott Belcher says, “The future is connected vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Technology is changing the way we operate.”

Covisint senior vice president Joel Kremke says that in addition to safety enhancements, these new technologies can also help motorists maintain their vehicles.  “What if,” he asserts, “you were alerted when you got into the car that you needed an oil change, told you where you could get you one on the way home, book it and got you a coupon, too?” Kremke believes that drivers will come to think of these technologies as indispensable in the not-too-distant future.

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