Putting aside whether it's wise to divide your attention between driving and the social Web at all, several automakers are offering technology packages that will make it marginally safer by letting you tweet, update your Facebook page and answer texts hands-free.
Here are a few that are out on the market now or are coming soon:
- Ford Sync with AppLink -- Sync, currently available in nearly all Ford products, already reads text messages out loud and allows drivers to program an away message to be automatically sent back. AppLink, a free software upgrade for the Sync system in the Ford Fiesta, will allow it to connect to the more popular applications on your Android and Blackberry phones, including Pandora and Stitcher, and control them hands-free. By 2011, the system will add a new feature: reading posts from Twitter aloud to drivers in real time.
- General Motors OnStar -- GM plans an upgrade to its OnStar system in 2011 that would allow drivers to listen to and respond to Facebook and text messages, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press.
- BMW ConnectedDrive -- New BMWs will soon get the capability to connect to Blackberry smartphones and read aloud e-mail, text messages, memos and call logs or display them on an in-dash LCD screen.
- Kia UVO -- Kia's upcoming UVO will offer similar functionality to Ford's Sync, no surprise since they were both developed in partnership with Microsoft. It will allow drivers to receive and respond to text messages hands-free and is currently offered on the 2011 Sorento.
I understand why people want features like this in their cars, and making text, Twitter and Facebook hands-free is probably preferable to having drivers staring down at the their smartphones. But I don't think anyone can seriously contest the fact that they increase the probability a user will crash. One way to address that additional risk and pay for the consequences is to make such systems a factor for auto insurance pricing in the same way a V-8 engine or a red paintjob is now. In effect, you'd be saying, "Sure, you can have those risky distractions in your car, but you'll need to pay for that risk."
What do you think about these types of systems? Is voice-activated texting and access to social media services too much of a distraction for drivers? Should a car equipped with them be more expensive to insure?