Texting while driving: Just the beginning of the distractions. (Flickr/Jason Weaver)
What high-tech feature would you want to see in your car (that's not there now)? Autobytel.com asked that question as part of its "What's Hot Now?" report, and the results indicate that people must get lost a lot-30 percent, by far the largest number, would like to have an in-dash GPS navigation device. Me, I can live without one.
In fact, just as cars are connecting big time, we're electrifying them, and many of the early EVs will be kind of skimpy on personal tech, trying to increase battery life and increase range.
In the old days, the advertised list price of an entry-level car got you a really bare-bones vehicle with a "blanking plate" where the radio would have been. In England, even the heater was optional, which makes no sense in a country with perpetual "pissing down rain." But now everybody wants cars loaded (try to find one without air conditioning) and CD players and iPod Connectivity are nearly standard. And that's why it's interesting that the second-most popular choice in the survey (24 percent) was "I can live without technology."
Spoken like true Luddites!
After none of the above, people chose voice-controlled phone, radio and navigation (14 percent), rear-seat entertainment (eight percent), Bluetooth connectivity (six percent). An iPod/MP3 input (just six percent, I'm surprised) and "ability to surf the Internet" (five percent). With me, the iPod connector is tops-it compares to the invention of the wheel.
It's really interesting that the top choices are mightily distracting. I know, voice recognition is supposed to be anti-distraction, but I have my doubts it's still very engaging, and takes your mind away from the road, if not your hands.
Thirty-five percent of drivers told Autobytel that they have either been in an accident or were close to one from using tech devices such as cell phones and iPods while at the wheel. According to Chris Allen, an associate website editor at Autobytel, those people who said they can live without technology "are saying they can live without technology, because they're concerned with not being distracted." The GPS lovers, he added, "are sick of being lost, which is one of the biggest distractions there is. Navigation means you don't have to worry about keeping track of where you are." That's only with the good ones bad navigation is a distraction all its own.
By 2016, 90 percent of cars are expected to have some form of wireless connectivity, says the tech industry (which is rubbing its hands at the new market). Sixty-eight percent of the niche known as Echo Boomers say the ability to surf the net in the car is either "very important" or "nice to have." Right now, you can't surf when cars are moving, which sort of defeats the whole purpose. You're going to sit in the immobile car and look at the web?
Interestingly enough, electric cars promise both to be more and less connected. EVs are likely to be "smart," which means you'll be using your cell phone to schedule charging sessions or to find an available station. The car will be able to interact with the utility on charging schedules, too, dialing in the electrons at low-stress times.
But, and it's a big but, EVs have no on-board alternator churning out electricity. All the juice comes from the batteries, which means that loads of power-hungry personal tech will drastically reduce their range. I was given pause in New York recently when a company that converts Chevy Equinoxes to EV said that customers will be able to order everything on GM's options list, including rear-seat TV monitors.
Well, don't expect to drive too far if you have Date Night cranking in the back and the stereo roaring in the front.
Larry Burns, a former General Motors VP, told me that in the near future electric cars will drive themselves, closely linking and responding to wireless congestion messages to avoid gridlock. By that time, battery packs will have unlimited capacity and we'll be able to click away with abandon as Big Brother drives.
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