Bolted on and Squeezed In – Is New Car Technology Killing People?

I was watching TV on the weekend and the ad for the Holden Trax caught my eye.

It is a small SUV (what the hell is that – sounds about as logical as a miniature sun hat) but what I really noticed was the spruiking  that they are doing for its advanced technology. On the Holden website this is described as:

“Pair a smartphone[01] with Holden MyLink and access your contact and recent call lists, music playlists or certain mobile apps right on the 7″ colour touch-screen while the phone is safely stored away”


” Speak to friends and family safely while driving. Enjoy your favourite music or news programs”

Lets look at those statement one by one.

Firstly the heavy emphasis on web/mobile/smartphone technology. This strikes me as partly hype because if you look at the small print you get:


and :

“certain mobile apps right on the 7″ colour touch-screen while the phone is safely stored away”

This reminded me of a video that Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson posted to his site on the weekend:

Video Of The Week: Mobile To The Future

Where Luke Wroblewski presented a Google talk last year on the importance of the transition to mobile. In that video Luke talks about how when we transition from one technology of mass media to another we try and transport across most of the applications from the previous model. So lots of early TV programs were filmed radio programs. and lots of early mobile experience was/is the web translated to mobile. He gives some great examples and as Fred says the first 30 minutes are well worth watching.

This also reminds me of what is going on in social media in business these days. Most organisations are bolting on, and squeezing in applications and process into their current business and organisational model. The smart ones are using social media and social tools to reorganise their business and organisational models.

What is happening right now in smart technology in cars feels very much like that. Bolting on and adding capabilities in order to increase marketing hype to sell cars. While I am sure the car companies have plans to expand the range of applications and the flexibility of the systems involved it all feels and looks bolted on. I am all for new technology in cars. For example systems that allow car sharing, GPS location systems for a range of possibilities, and more importantly the technology for driverless cars.

But if companies muck up a transition to mobile as the new mass media, or struggle to come to terms with social business tools it is important but not vital. They can lose profit , or market share, or at the worst go out of business.

Which brings me to the statement on safety. If we get technology implementation wrong in cars then people get hurt and killed. While there is some varying reports and research on the matter it appears that on the balance of probabilities that the hands free use of mobile phones increases crash risk:

The Fact Sheet from Curtin-Monash Accident : Using Mobile Telephones While Driving makes the following conclusion:

“As noted by the US National Road Safety Council13, the increasing recognition of mobile
telephone use while driving has resulted in numerous pieces of legislation aimed at
improving driver safety. At the same time, the Council also noted that nearly all
legislation focuses on banning only hand-held telephones or only texting while driving. It
seems that the same situation holds true in Australia generally and Western Australia

The body of evidence strongly indicates that the use of both hand-held and hands-free
mobile phones while driving is dangerous. Legislation which aims to curb any use of
mobile telephones while driving is to therefore be welcomed in principle. However
legislation which leaves the driver free to use hands-free telephones for conversation and
other purposes is ignoring a vast body of research findings and remains inadequate from a safety perspective”

and recently the Victorian Coroner has recommended banning on mobile phone use in cars:

Coroner pushes to ban all phones while driving: hand-frees phones ‘just as dangerous’

It seems highly likely that the integration of applications and touch interfaces will increase this risk. While it is legal in Australia to drive with a hands free mobile system that is in a fitted car system it would seem to me that the “ Speak to friends and family safely while driving” statement is misleading advertising at best.

The use of foresight in technology adoption is both about creating new ways of doing things but also to look for unintended consequences and new risks. I don’t think much foresight is being used in the technology adoption race in cars. The sooner we have driverless cars and we can all use our smartphones. tablets and wearable technology at will the better.

The question has to be is the advance in value worth the risks? In this case I would have to say no.

Paul Higgins


Addendum Link:

Cars are the new smartphones: Chevrolet adding LTE and app store to 2015 models


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