Connected Cars: Elegant Infotainment Centers and Accident Avoidance Systems

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The cars of the future have arrived. And they’re flush with the latest technologies that have many people likening these vehicles to “iPads on wheels.”

It’s not just the elegant touch screens—17 inches in the case of the Tesla Model S. These “connected cars” stream Pandora, let drivers send Tweets and make Facebook posts. Some even help make dinner reservations and buy movie tickets (you still have to butter your own popcorn, though).

Although automakers tout the hands-free aspects of many of these systems, the devices are still giving rise to safety concerns with regard to distracted driving. Just this week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released guidelines encouraging car makers to limit the distraction risk of their technologies, including, in some instances, disabling the devices while the vehicle is in motion.

For more on the safety issues surrounding the “connected car,” have a look at this Cars.com interview:

 

Or, for a look at how technologies are actually working to warn drivers of potential crashes, check out this Cars.com video:

 

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TRANSCRIPT (Video 1)

ANNOUNCER:  Cars.com Auto Reviews.

KELSEY MAYS:  Hi.  I’m Kelsey Mays for Cars.com.  In new cars these days, multimedia systems are proliferating.  They’re spreading across a lot of cars as automakers replace traditional center controls with a large touch screen.  Unfortunately, that’s also introducing some driver distraction issues.  Here to talk about the ramifications, we’ve got safety expert Mark Woirol from Allstate.  Mark, thanks for joining us today.

MARK WOIROL:  Kelsey, thanks for having me on.  I appreciate it. 

KELSEY MAYS:  So, let’s talk about these systems.  I mean, what are they, kind of, what are some of the issues posed? 

MARK WOIROL:  You know, the systems in the market today have come so far in the last two to three years.  You had systems that three years ago worked off a basis of an embedded module that connected to a satellite cellular connection to now the systems are built into where a blue tooth connection in a vehicle to an iPhone can run the systems on the car and the apps that are out there. 

KELSEY MAYS:  So, drivers and their passengers are more connected than ever these days with Facebook and other social medial and what have you.  How do we convince them that while they are behind the wheel driving is the first priority? 

MARK WOIROL:  Great question.  You know, what of the biggest things, and you hit it on the head, is that all the apps that are available to them—they have Google, they have Yelp, they have Pandora, all these apps—they still need to focus on driving the vehicle and watching on the road versus touching the screens that are out there.   

KELSEY MAYS:  But Mark, aren’t these systems safer than someone having one hand thumbing away on a smartphone and the other hand on the wheel? 

MARK WOIROL:  Absolutely, Kelsey.  If we look at the systems three years ago, you had little knobs and buttons that they had to push, so they’re focusing more on what’s out there.  In today’s system, while it’s touch screen, it makes it a lot easier from them.  The screens are bigger.  They’re typically about an eight-inch  screen versus a four-inch  screen, so the ability to actually get in to see what’s out there is good, but it gets back to they still need to be focusing on the road and what’s going on in front of them versus the apps.

KELSEY MAYS:  So it sounds like we’ve come a long ways from where these screens were for five or even 10 years ago.  What’s been the reaction from some of the regulators?  I know that transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, has been talking about how he’s on this, kind of, crusade against distracted driving.  What’s been the reaction there?

MARK WOIROL:  Distracted driving comes in a lot of different forms.  It can come in texting.  It can come in talking on a cell phone.  It can come in using an infotainment center.  It can come in simply talking in a car such as, we’re doing right now.  At the end of the day, it gets back to paying attention.  If you look at current statistics that are out there, 25 percent of all reported collisions are a result of distracted driving.  Out of that 25 percent, 80 percent are three seconds or less to impact.  Three seconds not focusing on the road is a big deal.  You know Allstate is a big proponent of teen education and no texting, so we’re a big proponent on these systems on what they can do, but also the fact that we need to pay attention to the road.

KELSEY MAYS:  So automakers want to increase profitability of cars, and this is one way.  How do we reconcile that with safety and consumers wanting to stay connected?

MARK WOIROL:  I think when you look at what’s available out there on the systems, the government as well as the insurance industry know the researchers are keenly aware of what the systems can do, and there is a lot of dialogue going on in regards to how do you work through these systems to give the customer what they want, but also, in fact, have safety built into these systems.  Some manufacturers do better than others in regards to what the systems can do.  Functionality is actually taken out of some systems while the car is in motion, which again is a good thing, to where there’s not a distraction with the driver.  We do have a long way to go, but I feel that based on where we’re at today, all parties are at least talking about it. 

ANNOUNCER:  For more car-related news, go to Cars.com or our blog, KickingTires.net. 

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TRANSCRIPT (Video 2)

ANNOUNCER:  Cars.com Auto Reviews.

KELSEY MAYS:  Hi.  I’m Kelsey Mays from Cars.com.  Modern automotive safety systems today go well beyond anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.  In fact, some cars are even able to warn you of a collision to come.  We’ll talk about how those systems work and cover some of their implications with Mark Woirol an Automotive Safety Expert from Allstate.  Mark, thanks for joining us today.

MARK WOIROL:  Thanks Kelsey.  I appreciate you having me on.  I’m a big fan of what Cars.com does. 

KELSEY MAYS:  So tell me about these systems.  How do they work?  What do they do?

MARK WOIROL:  Well, there’s a lot of different systems that are on the market.  So when we look at safety systems in an automobile, you have crash avoidance systems.  We have lane departure systems.  We have advanced headlight systems.  We have backup systems that are in place.  We have mitigation systems.  So, each one that are in vehicles are set up to do a specifically a different task to protect. 

KELSEY MAYS:  So, are these systems—we’ve seen a lot of them in luxury vehicles.  Are some of them coming out in non-luxury vehicles, in the Chevys, the Toyotas, the Fords of the world?

MARK WOIROL:  Yea, they are.  Typically, the higher-end vehicles have always been the ones that, kind of, start the ball rolling with new systems.  But, in today’s marketplace, you can take a Ford Focus as a prime example.  They have a low speed crash avoidance system that’s built into the vehicle.  They also have a system built into where the vehicle, such as Lexus a few years ago, it will park itself into parallel park. 

KELSEY MAYS:  Wow.  So, do these systems actually steer you away from an impending collision or do they just—they warn you?  Do they stop you?  How does that all work?

MARK WOIROL:  There is vast differences between most of the systems.  I’ll give you two examples.  So, when you look at front driver systems that are out there, you could have a low-speed system or a low-impact braking system, and you have a high-speed system.  So, if I look at the Volvo system, which is called City Safe, it’s made to where a crash is under 20 miles an hour, through a laser and a camera mounted in front of the rear-view mirror, it will track a car in front of it and literally stop the vehicle from an impact.  It’s built for the urban environment, whereas if you look at a high-speed system, and I’ll use BMW system as a prime example, it’s a four-phase system.  Traveling at speed on a major highway, the system will warn you of an impending problem.  Phase two it will actually pre-charge the brakes to potentially stop.  Phase three gets into the situation to where, okay, as a driver you haven’t done anything, so it’s going to actually start to apply the brakes for about a second and a half to slow the vehicle down, and phase four the system literally understands crash is imminent, we are going to have an effect here, it will literally slow the car down, evasive breaking, to try to minimize the impact as well as reposition the vehicle and the people in the vehicle to help them from an injury standpoint.

KELSEY MAYS:  So what are all the implications of this?  I mean if your car is really trying to mitigate collisions, and you really idiot proof the car, well, aren’t we just all going to become more idiots behind the wheel?

MARK WOIROL:  No.  I think we all agree, Kelsey, that the driver still is the one that’s in control of the vehicle.  At the end of the day, it’s about giving additional tools to them, so when they drive, to make it safer.  Allstate Insurance Company is one of the first companies to get behind airbags and putting them into vehicles as far as stability control and our position is this is just another tool to help the driver be aware of the driving public.

KELSEY MAYS:  So it sounds like you’d agree with the statement that the number-one safety feature in a car is really the driver?

MARK WOIROL:  Absolutely.

ANNOUNCER:  For more car-related news, go to Cars.com or our blog, KickingTires.net. 

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Videos developed via a partnership between Allstate Insurance and Cars.com.

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