Driven to Distraction by Automakers’ Mixed Messaging

Car companies cry caution—and pile on cognitive dissonance. Watch the road!

One way to keep drivers focused on the task of piloting their vehicles might be to embed corrective electrical prods deep in their brains. (Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

American car company Ford and Bavarian motor giant BMW have a few things in common: For instance, both manufacturers fund highly publicized programs to focus drivers on road safety. Ford sponsors “Driving Skills for Life” clinics at U.S. high schools, and BMW’s “Don’t Text and Drive” ads try to scare kids into obeying the title of its campaign.

Those same allied automakers are pitted against one another in a cutthroat competition to pack their products with potentially killer apps.

Despite Ford’s and BMW’s education projects, don’t expect the 5,474 deaths caused by distracted driving in 2009 to go down in 2011. Both companies, reports Fair Warning, hardwire their vehicles with enough attention-grabbing devices to make a trip to the grocery store as sensory overloaded as a spin in a combat simulator.

Ford’s SYNC system, for example, enables drivers to use voice commands and touch screens to make and receive calls, listen to their text messages and choose from a menu of replies. BMW’s ConnectedDrive provides calling, e-mail and text read-backs, and displays headlines of the messages on a screen.

General Motors strutted its stuff with a Super Bowl ad of a young Chevy Cruze owner whose face lights up as he drives away and plays back the Facebook message: “Best first date ever…”

It’s unfair to single out Ford and BMW. The broadly inclusive Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is teaming with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons to drive home messaging that a distracted driver is a dangerous driver. Meanwhile, those same allied automakers are pitted against one another in a cutthroat competition to pack their products with potentially killer apps.

Read the entire FairWarning report here.

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