Useless, Redundant and Dangerous Car Tech *UPDATED

February 16th, 2012

BMW's iPhone MOG app

*UPDATE: On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation released voluntary anti-distraction guidelines for carmakers. These call for disabling all electronic devices that access the Web and social media or send text messages—any in-car technology that causes drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road for more than two seconds. That means no texting, tweeting, dialing or browsing unless the car is stopped and placed in Park.

The NTSB has called for a total ban on such devices, and other advocacy groups had skeptical comments, but this is a step forward, we think. Press release here.

Popular Mechanics did a recent piece on the “10 Most Useless Car Technologies.” I agree with most but not all of their choices, and they were being kind, given the proliferation of infotainment junk in cars. Give us some comment on a) what you think they omitted, and b) what they got wrong. I’ll add mine as we go.

  1. Paddle shifters for automatic transmissions. PM says they often don’t work well. I say, fix ’em and keep ’em. Automatics are good today, but we need the override.
  2. Interlocked seatbelts and starter. Not on cars anymore.
  3. Automatic moisture-sensing wipers. Right, they often don’t work correctly.
  4. Automatic steering headlights. No comment, never drove with them.
  5. Map lights. Wrong: Still useful.
  6. Motorized rear-view mirror. Right: Use your hands.
  7. Motorized seatbelts. Not in cars anymore.
  8. Proximity warning systems. Yes, confusing and distracting. Lane departure warning signals could be good.
  9. Electronic parking brake. Haven’t used.
  10. Chevrolet Volt capacitive touch controls. All touchscreens distract.

Here are a couple they forgot:

  1. Blind-spot warning systems (cameras set in side-view mirrors). Totally redundant; set your mirrors by hand, and you’ll see everything the camera does.
  2. Self-parking systems, à la Lexus. Learn how to drive.
  3. Dumb keyless entry systems and auto-start. Invitation to breakdown and thieves.
  4. Most all infotainment systems, particularly Ford’s SYNC and BMW’s ConnectedDrive. The BMW system actually allows you to connect with Facebook and Twitter as you drive.

At the same time Ford and BMW are promoting these techy distractions (high-profit items and selling like mad), they have launched campaigns to warn teens about the dangers of distracted driving and texting!

BMW has integrated the MOG music service (available as an iPhone app) to stream and control music from the Internet inside your car. Notes one article, “It’s pretty simple to navigate MOG using the iDrive knob. All the features you love are here.” Oh wow!

Maybe we should run a regular blog post on the latest distracted driving, useless or dangerous technology developments in cars. What do you think?

—jgoods

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  1. Tim
    | #1

    I like your additions, but must say I disagree with “3.Dumb keyless entry systems and auto-start. Invitation to breakdown and thieves”. My guess is that you do not have this feature on your current vehicle or you don’t have kids. I too, felt the same way, “what a gimmick”, but after having this on my ’08 Nissan Altima, I won’t buy a vehicle without. With kids in tow and arms full of stuff, it is awesome to walk up to your vehicle and open it without having to drop everything in hands to the ground to fumble for your keys. Great feature. Not only that, but then you can get in the car and start it without inserting a key in the ignition. Big time saver and convenience. Auto start, well that depends on how cold your winters are I suppose.

  2. Randy
    | #2

    I think you’re talking about remote starting, which should be banned. It’s potentially dangerous and a big fuel waster. I wouldn’t buy a car without keyless entry, but the true keyless systems with pushbutton starters are less needed, and I understand crooks are figuring out how to defeat them.
    As to the other stuff, I remember when G.W. Bush tried to say that “money trumps everything” end even he wasn’t cynical enough to say it. All this crap will keep going on cars as long as automakers can make big profits. The only way to get them to change their minds are large scale liability lawsuits that cost them far more than they profit.

  3. Prana
    | #3

    I believe you are wrong about the motorized seatbelts. Takata has shown year-on-year growth for motorized seatbelts since production began in 2003/04.
    Besides, recently Mercedes annouced that they are launching a motorized buckle lifter for the seatbelts.

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