Will we ever surf the Net from the driver’s seat? Should we? The auto industry is still debating this question, and coming up with solutions that don’t really make anybody happy. The problem, of course, is distracted driving: You can’t eyeball Web pages and the road at the same time.
According to the Driver Distraction Center at Car Talk Plaza, you are eight times more likely to crash if you’re texting while on the highway. (I scored a 27 on the distracted driving test published there, which means, according to Tom and Ray, that I still have a conscience. But I do scroll through iPod menus, reach for things in the back seat and swivel my head for the opposite sex.)
I saw an auto Web browser demonstrated as early as 1999. It was called something like “My PC,” and it worked perfectly well, but the creators were stymied then by the issue of how to keep the driver focused. The fix, for the most part, has been to have it only work when the car is immobile, but that’s kind of a non-solution. Who the hell is going to sit in their driveway to check the latest postings when there’s a perfectly good computer in the house a few feet away?
Ford has been way ahead of everybody when it comes to car audio, and the Sync system (which premiered in 2008) allowed people like me, finally, to satisfactorily access their massive music collections. I mean, I have 37,000 songs, and with Sync I could leave the iPod at home and just carry a portable hard drive around.
That was then. Now we’re on to the next-generation system, MyFord Touch, powered by Sync and created with input from 20-something focus groups. This video, recorded at the New York International Auto Show in the front seat of a Ford, gives you the highlights. This system, which will appear on the 2011 Edge and Lincoln MKX, as well as the 2012 Focus, is hugely capable. Is it also seriously distracting? We’ll see.
Ford’s system offers full Wi-Fi capability, which means your passengers can connect on their laptops all they want. There’s a built-in Web browser, too, but it only works when the car is in “park.” You can even use the USB jack to plug in a keyboard to transform your car into an office. Will hackers work overtime to defeat this function? I hope not.
Listen to some of this high-tech gibberish about MyFord Touch: “Integrated browser supports tabbed page navigation … a 3-D carousel for bookmark browsing … RSS feed aggregator and text-to-voice reader.” Stop!
The Web browser worked well in the car parked on the show floor. I’m still trying to picture how I, as a driver who’s often alone in the car, would actually get much use from it if I follow the rules.
There are other opportunities for distracted driving here. In addition to playing music from every conceivable source (satellite radio, CD, HD radio, USB-connected media players, hard drives, memory sticks, podcasts) there’s also album cover art to ogle and even photo viewing.
By the way, if your default position is not to take distracted driving seriously, you should know that the feds are cracking down by financing pilot enforcement programs in two cities (Hartford, Conn., and Syracuse, N.Y.,) beginning this week. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has called distracted driving an "epidemic."
I love the capabilities of MyFord Touch, but what happened to the “good old days,” when car entertainment consisted of a radio with two knobs, on-off and tuning? Tone control? That was optional.