With the launch of almost every new car, we see the march towards motors becoming an extension of the smartphone. It’s a rapidly growing area for car makers as they seek to make their vehicles more compatible with the smartphones that have become an essential item in so many drivers’ daily lives. Yet, should we be embracing this technology leap or wondering if we really need it?
The benefits of turning your car into a mobile high-tech internet provider are as varied as they are appealing. You can access emails on the move, the kids can stream music and video to keep them entertained, and it allows you access to all of the apps and functions on your phone.
With all of this tech, it turns the car into one giant mobile wi-fi hotspot. So much so, in fact, that Vauxhall proudly points out the “fin” on the roof of the new Astra acts as a much stronger mobile phone aerial than the one in your phone, so it’s better to use the phone via the car.
It’s all very clever and there are undoubted safety advantages of a car being able to hook up to the internet. For instance, if you are involved in a collision, systems such as E-call and Vauxhall’s OnStar can contact the emergency services automatically.
However, these are automatic systems that can easily be allowed to run in the background where the driver is unaware of them in normal driving conditions. As they go unnoticed by the driver, they are also not a distraction, and this is where cars as mobile Wi-fi hotspots and an extension of our phones demands more scrutiny.
With so many functions, apps and opportunities available through a smartphone now, it is a huge temptation for drivers to make use of them when driving. Take these functions away and the driver may feel cheated out of a huge library of music, email and texts on the move.
However, while some might feel cheated, they will actually have much more time to devote to their driving and awareness of what is going on around them. This is the crux of the matter.
The law says we aren’t allowed to use a handheld mobile phone when driving in the UK. We are allowed to hold a cigarette, though, or a drink, and nobody has been prosecuted for plucking a sweet from the packet while driving. It is not the physical act that is necessarily distracting, but the amount of mental power devoted to the task.
Picking a sweet from a packet is simple and you very quickly return your hand to the steering wheel and your mind to the job of driving.
Use a mobile phone when driving and you need one hand to hold the phone and that is clearly dangerous. What is more dangerous, however, is the amount of brain power required to hold a conversation while driving and how much that distracts the driver from controlling the car.
If you add in the extra distractions of listening to email messages and texts being read out by the car, alongside choosing music and a route for the satnav, and you have a raft of tasks that rob the driver’s attention from the road ahead.
Banning wi-fi in cars is not an option, nor practical, but there is another solution: switch off your phone when driving. With your phone switched off, your brain will be fully switched on to the job of driving and that is the best safety system you can have in a car.