Hands-Free and Brain-Free Driving


Back in January we spoke some unkind words about the Ford-Microsoft Sync venture. Namely, that super-connectivity (music, phone, media, driver directions, etc.) could only distract drivers from the most important – and hazardous – task at hand. What a stupid thing to say. Everyone loves it, and 80 percent of new Fords are ordered with Sync. Of course people want to be distracted from driving: It’s just too boring.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, recently took personal delivery from Alan Mulally, Ford CEO, of a new Fusion, all Synced out and with media coverage to boot. Steve was so excited that he reportedly exclaimed, “Hehehe! Hahaha! Beautiful, man!” and ran to greet Mulally and the press, assembled for the self-effacing sales pitch you’ll see and hear below.

Don’tcha just love Alan talking about “another node on the big Internet in the sky”? And, as he further said, “We all want to be connected.” Well, pretty soon we will likely have not just the “hands-free functionality” of Sync, but the functionality of hands-free driving—the next step on the road to mass distraction.

Okay, I’m jaundiced, but don’t you think Sync could contribute to driver distraction? Give us your thoughts.



  1. Well, this will certainly be the next field day for the ambulance-chasing lawyer crowd, who will of course claim that their clients were injured in crashes caused by driver inattention because of these devices made available by greedy car companies. The fact of the matter is that virtually all these systems are OPTIONAL equipment that the buyer ordered. The car makers don’t put this stuff out for the fun of it, their marketing departments tell them that their customers want these products. And they are PROFITABLE. (Witness Ford’s success.)

    The real problem in this country is one of the worst driver education and enforcement system in the world. Most drivers don’t even know the basic rules of the road. Add to that the view that a driver’s license is an entitlement, and you get tens of thousands of drivers who shouldn’t be on the road at all, and millions whose driving knowledge and vehicle handling ability is marginal at best. No wonder we are killing and maiming by the tens of thousands every year. With our highway carnage, driver distraction from telematics doesn’t seem like much of a problem.

  2. Right on, Norm! I agree completely with your suggestions which, as you know, will never be implemented.

    Two things to add: the car biz, like any other, is not just in place to satisfy demand but to create demand. This sort of distracting junk is merely catering to demand. It’s similar to what the US carmakers did by gravitating to the lowest common denominator (and the highest profit) in marketing trucks, SUVs and the guzzlers.

    How to create demand for smaller, efficient cars involves REAL marketing, a process of education and exposure to something that ultimately works better, in every sense. We could start by demanding better education and licensing of all drivers (the process is a scandal in this country), so that just maybe they would come to learn what driving is really about.



  3. The only thing anyone needs in a car are the controls necessary to operate it and the gauges necessary to let the drive know what’s going on. That’s it. Everything else is a distraction. The more distractions you add to a car, the dumber the driver becomes. Cupholders, CD players, navi systems, all are there to tell the driver “hey, we understand that you hate to drive and don’t have a clue about what’s going on under the hood or under your tires. Enjoy yourself instead of stressing out about how little you know about actually driving somewhere safely.”

    I would like to see phone use totally banned in moving vehicles by the installation of phone jamming equipment in the transmission.

    I would like navigation systems that can only accept input when the vehicle is in park.

    I would like to see A/C-heat controls AND radio controls on the steering wheel – mandatory.

    I would like to see cupholders available only in the passenger areas. None for the driver. Don’t eat and drink – DRIVE. Or STOP.

    No video players, for ANYONE in the car.

    If the car manufacturers would spend half the time on engineering the cars that they spend on adding useless gadgets and gizmos, we would be leading the world in vehicle quality. But the gizmos let them charge more for a less valuable car, and Americans love that kind of marketing. So it won’t change anytime soon.

  4. I think that MANY people are bound to do things besides DRIVE while driving in their car. While there are a lot of activities that can’t be addressed, I applaud the use of technology to enable someone to use their voice and a few buttons instead of fumbling around for their phone, or trying to find a specific song (or digging around in the back seat for a CD).

    Further, I take my hat off to the people buying the vehicles with these systems, because for each ones sold there might be one less driver with wandering eyes behind the wheel.

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