Automakers will be soon putting computers in car dashboards, making Twitter, Facebook, Internet Radio and the web accessible as drivers move down the road. The announcement came during this month’s annual Las Vegas electronics show. Manufacturers of the devices, including Google and Intel, call them “infotainment systems.”
Critics say they will add to the number of distracted driving deaths on American roads, a toll they say is rising fast. But auto industry spokesmen and others say the devices will make cars safer. They say that they are creating helpful systems that display crucial information, including sensors that try to predict dangerous driving situations. Who is right?
The stakes are high. Ford’s CEO says that “in-car-connectivity” is the key to Ford’s corporate turnaround. Statistics from the Consumer Electronics Association support his claim. Demand for these “in-vehicle” gadgets was “expected to top $9.3 billion in 2009.”
Critics argue that cell phones are killing Americans at record rates as drivers talk and text while driving. Making more electronic devices available behind the wheel, they say, will only increase the number of auto accidents. They call distracted driving America’s chief health menace.
On average, more than 41,000 people a year died in accidents in the United States over the last decade, according to a January 2010 Scripps Howard News Service story. It also cited statistics from The Institute for Transportation Engineers showing that as many as 120 people a day die from “vehicle-related crashes” in the U.S.
Those who support computers in cars say that heart disease is the biggest killer of Americans, not auto accidents. It kills more than 600,000 a year according to The Center for Disease Control.
Since texting drivers are six times more likely to have an accident, safety conscious drivers are left to wonder if their actions may one day eclipse heart disease as the leading cause of fatalities in America. You could call it a deadly dilemma.