When It Comes to Auto Safety, Is Connectivity a Blessing or a Curse?


James Raia, Presented by Ford

Ford_sxsw1Technology thrives in the automotive industry. Mobile devices, emergency response technology and driving-habit-monitoring devices have all revolutionized auto safety in recent years.

Recent studies suggest that consumer safety concerns will fuel further technological breakthroughs in the auto industry — and lead to a level of connectivity that may be more of a distraction than help.

It’s clear that today’s drivers are concerned with auto safety and make an effort to stay focused on the road. Recent studies by Harris Interactive, a marketing research company in Rochester, N.Y., and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicate that distracted driving may be in decline. According to Harris Poll AutoTECHCAST, an online poll of 13,718 U.S. drivers over the age of 18 conducted between April 4 and May 9 of 2013, fewer people are calling and texting behind the wheel. A 2012 study by the NHTSA supports these findings.

More public awareness, new driving laws and a greater appreciation of new technology are key reasons behind this shift.

Still, experts say there is room for improvement.

“While both the NHTSA report and the [Harris Interactive] study show declines in some distracted driving activities, there remains a long road ahead in the race to get distracted driving under control,” said Mike Chadsey, vice president and automotive solutions consultant at Harris Interactive.

The Harris study suggests that drivers are not only aware that they need to be more focused on the road, but are increasingly turning to technology for help. According to the study, there is increasing interest among consumers for safety-related features like adaptive headlamps, blind spot warning, emergency front collision warning and surround view systems. Forty-seven percent of respondents said they were “likely” to purchase a back-up camera in their next automobile.

Together, these conclusions demonstrate a consumer demand for connectivity and offer insight into the future of the auto industry.

“Carmakers should take note,” said Chadsey. “Depending on the generation of their target market, in-car connectivity can have influence on the buying decision.”

“But,” he added, “too much of a good thing may just be too much.”

Chadsey’s not the only key player to raise concerns about connectivity in cars. Last April, the federal government expressed its concerns and recommended to automakers a voluntary limit to technology in vehicles. The NHTSA stresses that drivers should remain focused on driving — not technological wizardry.