Weekly Brief: Hackers and carmakers beware, US government is coming for you

From OnStar and 60 Minutes to Wired Magazine and Jeep Cherokee to a whole Connected Car Village at the DefCon hackers conference, the past year has been one giant advertisement for how susceptible connected cars are to hacking.

In response, a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives last week proposed a law that would impose a $100,000 (£65,000) fine on any cyber-hacker who accesses a vehicle electronic control unit without authorisation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would be required to create an Automotive Cybersecurity Advisory Council for the creation and sharing of security best practices among automakers, and automakers themselves would have to establish privacy policies that clarify what they do with all information they collect and distribute from in-vehicle technologies and services. The law stops short of requiring automakers to implement more robust protections against hacking — an important component in this conversation — but it would be a start nonetheless. You can read the full draft document here.

In other news, Jaguar Land Rover partnered up with 10 UK universities, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Transport Research Laboratory on a £11M autonomous vehicle research programme. The five-year programme will include five distinct projects ranging from driver-autonomous vehicle relations to an investigation into cloud-based distributed control frameworks that could guide self-driving cars from afar.

Ever driven a car in Hong Kong between 8 and 9am? You probably didn’t get far. The average jam length exceeds 35 kilometres at that time. TomTom to the rescue: the navigation provider launched its TomTom traffic service in Hong Kong this week, with predictive traffic and re-routing via secondary roads. TomTom Traffic is now live in 48 countries.

AppleWatch users rejoice, you can now unlock and start your car from your wrist, and you don’t have to have a $100,000 Tesla or Mercedes-Benz to be able to do it. The Connect2Car Apple Watch app connects with any Connect2Car aftermarket units, which range from $139 for a basic plug and play unit to $199 for more advanced units that require installation. Other features include car location, tracking and speed limit alerts.

Many connected car features go unused, often because drivers can’t figure them out. That’s the conclusion of a survey of 1,000 British car owners conducted by BookMyGarage.com. 73% are perplexed by some or all of the high-tech gadgets and safety features in their vehicles, even though those features were the very reason many of them purchased their cars. The top head-scratchers? Cruise control and Bluetooth. [That said, in the defence of drivers who frequently tour Continental Europe, the use of cruise control is banned on some congested highways in Belgium so many may not want to be overly reliant on the technology – Ed]. The J.D. Power 2015 DrIVE Report had nearly identical findings.

The fancier infotainment units get, the more problematic they become, according to US Consumer Reports and its 2015 Annual Auto Reliability Survey of more than 740,000 cars. Drivers now experience more trouble with unresponsive or crashing touch screens, as well as a reluctance to pair a phone. AcuraLink, Cadillac’s CUE and Infiniti’s InTouch systems have been particularly problematic. On the bright side: updates to Ford Sync and Lincoln’s MyTouch systems have made them less troublesome year by year.

Finally, Waze rolled out version 4.0 of its popular navigation app, and it’s the greatest thing ever. Granted, the author of the Weekly Brief may be a bit biased in this respect (I preach the Waze gospel wherever I go), but really, you should check this thing out. The update includes a streamlined interface with less clutter, brighter cleaner colours and a new “smart calendar” that keeps you apprised of road incidents likely to impact your commute so that you can choose the smartest departure time.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

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