Weekly Brief: Connected Car Gold Rush Continues, No Matter the Peril

Connected car technology has become one of the key selling points in today’s market and can make the difference between which cars get bought and which languish on dealership lots. Sleek infotainment screens, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, integrated navigation and advanced driver assistance systems all help to distinguish car brands in the eyes of consumers, who are less concerned with brand loyalty than they are with design, performance and connectivity.

It’s no surprise then to see automakers continue to partner with tech companies, like Jaguar Land Rover did with BlackBerry last week. JLR already had BlackBerry in its corner; the two had partnered on JLR’s next-generation infotainment system a couple years back. Now JLR wants to expand that partnership by integrating BlackBerry’s artificial intelligence and machine learning technology across JLR’s lineup. This will include cybersecurity threat protection and predictive software maintenance. Our Paul Myles has a full story.

We also saw Nissan unveil its long-anticipated second generation of the popular Juke crossover last week. Nissan had teased some of the car’s connected tech in the build up to the big reveal, calling it the “most connected Nissan yet.” Now we can see the full suite of features in the flesh. It includes the NissanConnect infotainment system with CarPlay and Android Auto, remote locking, in-car Wi-Fi and Nissan’s ProPilot driver assistance system. The new Juke is now over-the-air compliant as well, meaning that it can stay abreast of future innovation with regular updates. For more on Nissan’s latest debut, see our coverage here, which includes an exclusive interview with Nissan Europe’s connected car guru Gareth Dunsmore.

It’s hard to imagine this trend toward increased connectivity changing course anytime soon, whether for better or worse. Our society is now so saturated with technology, and with the ability and expectation to stay connected at all times, that the idea of our automobiles being anything less than smartphones on wheels seems out of touch. Of course, smartphones on wheels have a unique ability to distract. Even before smartphones came along humans proved themselves to be dangerously distractible behind the wheel. Food. Shaving. Kids. Road rage.

Now add in shiny infotainment screens, with small buttons and unreliable performance, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

The statistics bear this out. One out of four deadly car accidents in America now results from distracted driving according to research from TeenSafe. Distracted driving is an epidemic among teens in particular, with connected technology (and phones in particular) sitting at the heart of the problem. It’s become so severe that car accidents are now the main cause of death for teenagers in the United States, says TeenSafe. The number of crashes resulting from distraction are on the rise among adults as well. 

Granted, in a world where people are going to use smartphones while they drive no matter what, connected car technology can help mitigate distraction, as it allows for things like hands-free calling or voice-to-text. But it can also go the other direction and make distraction more of an integrated (and automaker endorsed) part of the driving experience.

That’s exactly the problem we’ve seen with Tesla. Tesla not only boasts that its cars are the most connected on the planet, it claims that they have all the technology that they need to drive themselves. In the fine print, Elon Musk points out that his Autopilot feature is NOT, in fact, capable of self-driving and requires FULL driver attention, but of course many drivers are already lost in the allure of their cars cruising hands free down the highway. For instance, this guy in Los Angeles was spotted several weeks ago asleep behind the wheel of his Tesla Model S, cruising at highway speeds with only Autopilot between him and disaster. 

Last week the US National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Tesla and its Autopilot feature are partly to blame for a crash that happened in 2018, when a Model S smashed into the back of fire truck in Southern California. NTSB also ruled that Tesla’s Autopilot was partly to blame when a Tesla driver named Josh Brown T-boned a semi-truck in Florida in 2016. For the time being, these rulings amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist, as NTSB is limited to safety recommendations. What the car industry needs (and what the general public deserves) is for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to step in and turn these safety recommendations into sensible, strict regulations that stipulate the safety precautions that must accompany driver assistance systems like Autopilot, and that prescribe how to minimize distraction from connected car tech like infotainment screens while a car is in motion. 

Otherwise we’re all crash dummies, and our highways will remain the testing grounds.

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