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The Safety of Futuristic Cars

Thu, 04/04/2002 - 8:47am
By Kim Stokes, Editor-in -Chief, kstokes@cahners.com


Wireless technology is an integral part of our lives, and continues to infiltrate different areas of our lives everyday. Laptops, PDAs, cellular phones, pagers — we use these devices everywhere. For some reason, we feel that anyone should be able to get in touch with us anywhere. And, with that comes a section of society that opposes the use of these devices in certain places — particularly cellular phones.

How many times have you been in a restaurant, store, theater, or any number of other places where someone is on their cell phone and you are annoyed by it? Not to mention the guy who cut you off doing 100 mph while talking on his cell phone? New York State has a law on the books which makes it illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, and more states are trying to adopt the same law.

Numerous studies released in recent months, both in the United States and abroad, have reported that drivers on cell phones — whether hands free or handset-in-hand — have a more delayed reaction time than someone who is driving drunk. If more states follow New York State's lead, will that really make drivers more attentive while driving? Right now, safety advocates are saying yes. I can't wait to see how in-vehicle telematics are challenged.

Do you remember the television show "Knight Rider?" Specifically, the car, K.I.T.T? What a car! It could do anything — driving, navigating, place phone calls, search databases for ANY information needed, scan a building and show Michael Knight the blueprints, make coffee. K.I.T.T. could even drive while Michael slept between assignments to save the world. Now that's in-vehicle telematics at its best. We aren't at this level, but it could be sooner than anyone thinks.

Parks Associates estimates that the automobile telematics market in the United States will grow from $2.7 billion in 2001 to $10.7 billion in 2005. Allied Business Intelligence estimates that the U.S. telematics market for personal vehicles will grow to $13 billion in 2006.

I know quite a few people who have On-Star or similar systems in their vehicles, and they work very well. I am not disputing the need for such emergency systems. I know I would feel more comfortable knowing I could press a button on my dashboard and speak with a real live person that has resources to help me in an emergency.

I do, however, dispute the thought of providing drivers with systems that will provide Internet access, email access, etc., because, let's face it, most drivers are not going to take the time to pull over to the side of the road before using them. The thought of being on a four-lane highway where the speed limit is NEVER obeyed, while John Doe is whizzing by me, reading his email, is quite unsettling.

According to a February 2002 report from GartnerG2, 80% of United States consumers are scared that automobile drivers who drive while using their cell phone will cause accidents. Interestingly, 59% of consumers say they are concerned that other drivers using a mobile phone might cause an accident, and 30% "strongly agree" that they themselves get distracted when they drive and talk on a mobile phone.

I'll bet that these numbers would be similar if the same group of consumers is asked how they feel about Internet access, email access, etc., in a vehicle. I think I'll wait for K.I.T.T.

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