Talking Point: Who decides what's safe to have in cars?
Our cars are getting systems with screens that mirror our smartphones. Every day we hear of more in-car devices to keep us 'connected', But who decides what's safe and what is not? Eddie Cunningham has some troubling questions and one or two suggestions.
THIS 'car connectivity' is wonderful.
Our cars' screens and monitors are becoming extensions of our smartphones.
Only we tend not to use our phones (most of us anyway) while careering down a motorway at 120kph. The danger is, we might if a 7in version of it is there in front of us and it only takes a second or two to look at and touch.
Let's not forget, however, that at 100kph, you're hurtling at around 30 metres every second. And it can take a few seconds to 'interface' with your screen.
A lot can happen.
More problematic, though, is that so much of the 'connectivity' in modern cars relies on a good signal.
Without it, you're banjaxed. Many of us found that to our cost on a recent drive with a satnav system that needed, and mostly didn't have, a signal.
The level of annoyance, frustration and distraction was manifest. It can so easily take your prime focus from the job in hand – driving safely.
The 'connect' game has moved on a lot these past few months.
There is hardly a day we don't hear of another car company linking up with one communications group or other.
It is great, exciting and the possibilities appear endless.
But my question is: Who decides what is safe in the first place?
Who decides what apps can be allowed, on the basis they are not distracting?
I asked the question and was told 'CCC' – the Car Connectivity Consortium (CCC).
It has 94 members and all are undoubtedly reputable companies.
They say they are "dedicated to developing global standards for phone-centric car connectivity solutions".
The members are among the "world's leading automotive, mobile communications, and consumer electronics industry companies, representing more than 70pc of the worldwide market share in vehicles and more than 60pc of the worldwide market share in smartphones".
In other words, CCC is virtually run/owned by car and phone companies.
I've no doubt they are rigorous in their assessments of what is alright to use and I'm sure they vet each product meticulously.
No disrespect, however, but are they best positioned, to be judge and jury on these matters? Is self-regulation going to be enough to cope and deal with the explosion of 'connectivity' and apps and new devices we know and are told are just around the corner?
For me? No.
It's a bit like letting players referee their own match. You need the 'cold eye' of the independent.
I quote from their own website: 'The CCC's first effort is MirrorLink, a technology standard for controlling a nearby smartphone from the steering wheel or via dashboard buttons and screens.
'The technology leverages a vehicle's controls and displays to give consumers access to their smartphone apps while driving, allowing them to be connected and responsible at the same time."
It is a wonderful idea. I've used it – but it didn't always work. There are aspects of it that would concern me, purely from the perspective of distraction.
Voice Control, as it becomes more widespread, will help avoid much of that.
A bit like highly-tuned engines way back, these systems can backfire just when you least expect.
They will get better but more diverse in their usage and application.
Which is why – as they begin to proliferate – that now is the time to address a serious need for the technological equivalent of the Euro NCAP (crash tests/safety) to cater for the tidal wave of devices transforming what our cars can do and what we can do in them.