/ Motoring, Technology

Apps in cars are a dangerous distraction

Tesla Model S dashboard

Advances in car technology are almost always positive, but with carmakers now developing in-car apps, I’m not so sure. Won’t web apps in our cars be just another distraction that could make our roads more dangerous?

Some carmakers, including Ford, General Motors and Toyota have launched systems that allow users to download smartphone-style apps to their vehicles.

The latest brand to follow the trend is electric manufacturer Tesla, which will incorporate a 17-inch touch-screen interface into the dash of the 2012 Tesla S (pictured). This latter piece of kit will be capable of web browsing with 3G connectivity, as well as controlling entertainment and sat nav systems.

It’s great that manufacturers are attempting to improve the in-car experience of their new models, but I fear these systems could prove another distraction for the modern-day driver, which could cause more accidents.

Car apps could be useful

Manufacturers and tech fans will argue that in-car apps will have their advantages. Instant updates for satellite navigation systems, such as traffic reports and congestion feedback, would be a welcome addition to any vehicle in their eyes.

And downloads to upgrade existing systems will mean you won’t have to take your car to a dealership to improve the specification of your vehicle or update current features.

It will also open up opportunities for manufacturers to give consumers detailed information about the cars they own. Owner manuals available at the touch of a button could mean the end of riffling through manual indexes to find important information like tyre pressures.

And these apps can also work as reminders for service intervals, MOT due dates and so forth.

Mobile Twitter updaters

But if the news stories and discussions I’ve read on blogs are to be believed, they’re most likely to be used socially – as rolling Twitter update mechanisms.

Most of the online commentaries I’ve read discuss the use of these in-car apps to update social media on the move and browse the web – one source even used the line: ‘[in-car apps] can do everything from update Twitter and Facebook to display the weather or distract the driver at traffic lights’.

A recent study has already highlighted the fact that an alarming number of motorists are using their smartphones behind the wheel to update Facebook statuses and tweet – surely making these applications even easier to access in a car will only encourage this distracting behaviour?

Like many in-car DVD players, these systems would be deemed safer if they only operated when the car is stationary. But even if that was the case, people would just use their smartphone or iPad, wouldn’t they?

Do you share my concerns about safety, or is this just a natural and inevitable development in car technology?


I generally buy basic cars as there “is less to go wrong” and I think the same would apply here.

I also do not think that the more technology in cars the better. It’s just more to go wrong and more to have fixed by a specialist (read expensive).

Here’s an example:

I used to drive an audi A4 (B5) and I loved it. You can feel exactly what the wheels are doing, exactly where all the grip is, even during braking. The engine responded to your foot exactly and the steering was precise.

I took it in for a service at a main dealer and got a brand new A4 to drive for the duration. Basically the engine was too powerful for the front wheels, the steering was so numb and lifeless I nearly crashed, the brakes were overly servo’d, the “hand” brake was a button, you just felt completely detached from the driving experience.

Which is my point. If you distract the driver too much from driving by adding lots of “gizmos” then who is going to do the driving? The sensors? the EMS? the CAN?

Call me old fashioned but I want a new car that doesn’t bong all the time I get in it, that doesn’t fall apart, that actually feels like I’m connected to it (driving wise) and doesn’t cost a fortune to fix.

Considering all of the above, I cannot find a car that appeals to me in the modern market, but I have no choice if I need economy. Talk about catch 22.

Does Which? know where I can buy a simple economic car that isn’t a massive box of plastic with tons of driver aides draped over it in the name of “progress”?

oh and isn’t a 1.0 euro box that is so slow its dangerous

There is a huge amount of research to show that drivers distracted by phone-calls are as fast to react as drunken drivers. And the effect lasts for a few minutes after the conversation ends. So on basic safety grounds their needs to be legislative action as otherwise the safety position will go by default.

France banned the iPod as the maximum loudness was dangerous to hearing though other countries allowed them in freely. However the French stance has now been seen as correct and the maximum volume reduced. Though it should be repeated lengthy use will damage hearing even at the reduced level. A Which? campaign here : )

You cannot rely on big business to necessarily do the sensible thing. If anything you could almost bet against it.

pickle says:
5 April 2011

Dean has got it right – I agree with him.
Apart from the wireless and perhaps sat nav I think all other apps should only work when the car is stopped – thereby avoiding any driving distraction.
Referring to Dean’s last paragraph – have a look at a Citroen C3 or C1 – they are about as basic as you can get these days and are economical.

Sophie Gilbert says:
6 April 2011

Agree with Rob and with Dean. Drivers need to be kept on their toes, not detached from the driving experience, and most people being bad drivers (or at least human) the last thing they need is more distractions. If it is proven that more aps in cars cause more crashes we cannot accept that they are “a natural and inevitable development in car technology”. Car manuafacturers aren’t interested in safety, they are interested in selling cars. We should fight them if we have to.

Sophie Gilbert has it right. However, the real problem is bad driving – how many times do you see a driver facing the front seat passenger for several seconds at a time during an animated conversation? I have a satnav which gives clear, audible instructions and only occasionally needs a quick confirmatory glance at the screen. Even then, I often ignore it’s instructions having planned the route beforehand with a map. Apart from that the car is “clean”. New technologies not related to driving ought to be limited to passenger-viewing only.

Yes, me too. This sounds like a recipe for completely avoidable road deaths

Isn’t there currently a law that says a television cannot be placed in a car where the driver can see it? All we need to do is adapt this law to relate to any form of screen that is not dedicated solely to driving needs.

“It’s great that manufacturers are attempting to improve the in-car experience of their new models” – no it isn’t. If you want to improve your travel experience, catch the bus and use your gadgets to your heart’s content.

Agree with Sophie Rob Dean and Gradivus – Drivers must concentrate on driving and stop being distracted. I plan journeys with maps beforehand – I carry a sat nav but never use it on the move.

Far too many car drivers are bad drivers and cannot even cope with “distractions” like road signs and road junctions many even admit they don’t know what the speed limit is.now -.let alone even more ‘apps’

“Apps to death” more like.

I won’t have to worry about this. I have no use for most of the new technology that manufacturers think I need. I don’t need to check my e-mail while driving. I refuse to bu a car with most of the useless (for me) gadgets that are being put into new cars. My car is transportation. I don’t live in it.
I really wonder how many accidents are caused by distracted drivers trying to use these toys while driving????