Editors of Car and Driver Talk Connected Cars

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, your survival guide to our crazy-busy, ever-connected modern world hosted by Dr. Edward Hallowell, ADHD expert. Eddie Alterman and Jeff Sabatini of Car and Driver talk with Dr. Ned Hallowell about connected cars and distracted driving. 

Episode 10: Dashboard Diversions: Are New Cars Safer or Scarier?

Jeff Sabatini: You’ve got to be kidding me. Driver assistance feature’s unavailable. That does not bode well.

DR. HALLOWELL: Hello and welcome to Distraction. I’m Dr. Hallowell, your host of the show that explores our super busy also super distracted modern world. Today, we’re hitting the road to talk about the new technology available in our cars and how it plays a role in distraction.

There’s a real irony here because these new cars with the full array of bells and whistles and gadgets and gizmos, they’re called the connected car for obvious reasons. You’re connected to pretty much everything, everywhere. Ironically enough, these new technologies may serve to distract from a more real job and that’s to drive the car.

car and driver

Editors of Car and Driver Magazine Join in the Conversation

The editors of Car and Driver invited us to their headquarters to talk about how distracted drivers have been the inspiration behind changes in the auto industry. Here’s Eddie Alterman, Editor-in-Chief of Car and Driver magazine.

Eddie Alterman: I think distraction is one of the big, big issues facing, not only drivers, but also car makers. How do they manage that distraction? How do you keep people from looking at their phone every thirty seconds? How do you keep the eyes focused on the road ahead rather than down at your lap at your phone? A lot of these semi-autonomous features are a way to correct around people’s bad behavior.

To me, personally, I think that’s the backwards way to go around to go about it. I think the best solution that anybody’s come up with is to make the car a phone dead zone so the cars won’t allow the phone to work within them. You won’t be so tempted to look down rather than saying, “I know you’re going to text. Why doesn’t the car take over from you?” I think the smarter way is to say, “The car is not going to allow you to seed responsibility to that level.”

DR. HALLOWELL: We wanted to see for ourselves what’s actually going on in these cars and very kindly the Mercedes Benz dealer in North Haven, right near the studio, invited us to come down and they took us into one of the S series which is the fanciest series. I sat behind the wheel in a car and the sticker price was a hundred and twenty thousand dollars.

For that hundred and twenty thousand dollars, I could move up, down, backwards, forwards. I could access the internet. I could dial up whatever music I wanted to here. I could get a concierge to make me a dinner reservation in New York or Los Angeles. I could probably book a flight to the moon all while driving my car.

My question to him was, “What’s going to keep me from driving into a pole the minute I leave the parking lot?” I said to him, “If I bought this car, you showed me all these options. I’m going to go speeding out of the parking lot. I’m going to be so excited there’s no way I’m going to keep track of it.” He said, “Oh, don’t worry. There’s a lot of safety features.” I wonder, I don’t have a safety feature on my brain and I’m curious and I want to try everything. I wonder about trying it while you’re driving.

Anyway, he’s quite confident that the car has enough safety features to protect me from myself. I’m not quite so confident. Here’s what happened.

Dr. HALLOWELL: This is a hundred and twenty thousand?

Jeff Sabatini: Yes.

DR. HALLOWELL: Do we want to pull out or do we want to stay right here?

Jeff Sabatini: We can go a little bit further if you’d like.

DR. HALLOWELL: No, no. This is fine. This is fine. I wanted to make sure we’re okay.

Jeff Sabatini: As you can see, we have the top technology in the industry for these cars now. These two twelve inch screens show me everything. I have my gauges, my navigation. I have all my “infotainment,” and it’s all right here at a push of a button or a speak of the voice.

DR. HALLOWELL: What do you mean a speak of the voice? Take me to the infotainment with your voice.

Jeff Sabatini: Okay. Right now, we’re showing the radio. Let’s say I wanted to go to phone. I hit my button right on the steering wheel. “Phone” and it brings me right to phone. From here, if my phone was paired, I would be able to speak a name. I can say, “Call Adam.” It will call Adam. I can also navigate to the different menus that I have in here. Vehicle, where we can play with some of the vehicle settings, navigation of course. We can set routes to wherever we may need to go.

DR. HALLOWELL: You don’t have to touch it to do that?

Jeff Sabatini: I do not have to touch it. I can do it all by voice.

Distractions Are Built In to Our Connected Cars

connected car

DR. HALLOWELL: Obviously, we’re wondering if manufacturers are motivated to build in safety features and, of course, they are. As much as they’re motivated to build in the bells and whistles which are amazing. They also have to build in complementary safety features. If you’re the ultimate being, if the car can drive itself, what happens if the driver falls asleep? Turns out, they don’t have a contingency plan for that. You’re supposed to stay a little bit awake. That becomes dicey.

In any case, the manufacturers are certainly thinking about this and they’re trying to address both issues simultaneously. The exciting issue of all the bells and whistles and the safety issue of what you have to do when you become distracted by them.

I can see how endlessly distracting it could be. You should show me the safety features. How do you idiot proof it because I would be driving into telephone poles. There’s so many things here to do.

Jeff Sabatini: That’s the good thing about Mercedes Benz. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to turn anything on, it is on already, unless you actually turn it off yourself. We have a few different systems in here. The main one that is now standard on all Mercedes Benz is called Collision Prevention Assist Plus or CPA Plus for short. What that uses is a forward facing radar in the front grill there, monitors what’s going on in front of you. If we start coming up on a car a little bit too quickly, say we were coming up on that C class in front of us, it will give you an audible warning. If you do not react to it, and by react I mean steer, gas, break.

DR. HALLOWELL: Pull up and see what happens.

Jeff Sabatini: It’s not going to do anything right now.

DR. HALLOWELL: Oh, it won’t? Why?

Jeff Sabatini: We’re not moving.

DR. HALLOWELL: Can I drive and try to hit the car? See what happens.

Jeff Sabatini: I get in trouble if we do hit the car.

DR. HALLOWELL: I won’t hit the car. I want to hear what it will say to me.

Jeff Sabatini: What it does is it beeps rapidly if you do not make any inputs or anything like that. It will break for you up to sixty percent.

DR. HALLOWELL: It does it’s best to prevent you from hitting something.

Jeff Sabatini: Exactly.

DR. HALLOWELL: It can’t stop you completely.

Jeff Sabatini: It can stop you completely, like I said.

DR. HALLOWELL: If I wanted to drive into the brick wall up there.

Jeff Sabatini: Oh, no. It will let you do that.

DR. HALLOWELL: It will let me do that.

Jeff Sabatini: Yes, because Mercedes allows you to still be the boss of the car.

DR. HALLOWELL: Okay.

How are driver’s managing all these dashboard toys? We found some research studies on this topic. University of Utah Psychology Professor, David Stayer, and his team had a hundred and sixty-two students and other volunteers make calls, texts and tune the radio while driving using voice based technologies. They found that the most distracting was using the speech to text system to compose emails and texts. That’s surprising to me because I do it all the time. I guess I should stop. Least distracting was listening to the radio and that’s a good thing because we’ve been doing that for a long time.

Other findings rated infotainment systems in some of the most common auto brands. The top two most distracting systems were Chevrolet’s My Link and Mercedes’ command system. The two least distracting were Toyota’s Entune and Hyundai’s Blue Link Telematics System.

Okay, what if your car could drive itself. This is coming, there’s no doubt about it. Of course, drive itself demands a definition. Will it really drive itself like an airplane will fly itself on automatic pilot? Turns out, no. When you have the illusion that the car is driving itself, however, you tend to pay less attention to the road. Well, that can be pretty dangerous. In a moment, we’ll go on a ride in a self-driving vehicle. What you hear might make you rethink the plan of opting out for a self-driving vehicle. As it turns out, none of them are fully self-driving. We’ll be back in a moment.

Dr. Hallowell Recommends Resources for People Who Want to Lead, Connect, and Succeed

There’s a new show called “Fast Leader Show” which was created to help people who are wanting to move faster and upward in their career. Who doesn’t want to do that? It’s hosted by a man by the name of Jim Rembach and he provides inspirational stories, tips on leadership, on managing career. It’s a fun and informative show for employees, leader’s entrepreneurs, and anyone who’s trying to lead others and, of course, lead themselves.

Each show ends with hump day hoedown where guests provide quick answers to the questions we all like to ask. I love that, hump day hoedown at the end of the show every Wednesday. You can get it on iTunes, Facebook and Twitter or go to fastleader.net.

Jim Rembach: Hey Siri, how can I drive from here to my friend John’s house?

Siri: I don’t know what you mean by, “How can I drive from here to my friend John’s house?”

Jim Rembach: How can I get from where I am to my friend John’s house?

Siri: Hello there.

Jim Rembach: Look at my contacts for John’s address.

Siri: Do you mean one of these eight?

Jim Rembach: No. Navigate from my current location to 10 Pine Street.

Siri: Hey.

Jim Rembach: Hey, Siri.

Siri: Okay.

Jim Rembach: Show me 10 Pine Street on a map.

Siri: Checking my sources. My web search turned something …

Test Drive

DR. HALLOWELL: One last tidbit for you. The studies also rated mental distraction for different ways of interacting with a car by voice command. The most distracting was using Apple Siri to navigate, send and receive text, post on social media and use the calendar. That’s all using voice command, not even handling the phone. Siri does learn and get more accurate over time but it’s still distracting. We’ll link to all this information on our website.

It really is important information and it’s all new. We’ve never had this to handle before. The more we engage our brains in tasks other than looking at the road and steering, the more likely we’ll have an accident. That’s the bottom line. The point is, when we’re driving, we should be driving. Listening to the radio, that’s fine but these other more engaging distractions are in fact very dangerous.

A little help from Siri or Google Maps is one thing. We’ve all been accustom to the equivalent, really, with a backseat driver or even listening to the radio. What about heading toward total loss of control. In other words, a completely self-driving car. Imagine that, you get in it and it takes you to where you’re going and you don’t have to do anything. You could even fall asleep. No one is there yet, but there are several cars that are heading in that direction. Car and Driver tested four of them. The Tesla earned the highest marks, but remember, even that car is not anywhere near fully self-driving.

Hands-Free Cars Aren’t Distraction-Free Cars

We went on a drive along with Car and Driver’s feature editor Jeff Sabatini, so let’s tell you it was not all smooth sailing. Here’s Jeff in the Tesla.

connected cars

Jeff Sabatini: Car’s with advanced self-driving features like this car, Mercedes has a technology and there are some others. Come on. It’s not working. Cruise control’s not working. I’m sorry. It’s going to keep beeping at us which is going to be distracting and make it difficult for me to keep a train of thought to record anything. Let me go stop up here, restart the car and let me see if that might fix it and I’ll also look at the front and see if there’s some obvious ice buildup. Yeah, it’s giving me the error and telling me to contact Tesla service, which if you live in the state of Michigan means that they’re going to take your car to Cleveland. Let’s get out and let the car turn off. I can probably make it go off.

DR. HALLOWELL: Yeah, pretty complicated display too. It’s very good that it drives itself because I don’t know where the setting is to make it go off. Let’s get out.

Jeff Sabatini: I don’t see a ton of salt build up on the car. This is actually one of the real problems with self-driving vehicle technology, and it’s a problem that they’ve had even in the stuff that they’ve done for the department of defense is that inclement weather, if the car can’t see, it can’t make decisions. Let me walk away from it so it locks and shuts down.

Self-Driving Cars use an Advanced Form of Cruise Control

Let’s get back in the car. Today, essentially, what you have is the ability to steer the car and drive it, but when you get onto a freeway, you set it on autopilot and it will usually be able to stay in between the lines and negotiate hundreds of miles of your drive on a freeway. It can’t do city, yet. It can’t do complicated maneuvers. That’s not part of the programming at all. It’s an advanced form of cruise control. Cruise control, there’s been dynamic adaptive cruise control, however, there’s different ways that car companies refer to it. Essentially, cruise control that mitigates the speed of the car based on the traffic. It uses radar to see the cars in front of it and then slows and speeds up accordingly to try to maintain your set speed. That’s been around for well over a decade.

The new versions of it add steering to the mix and use, usually, cameras and radar. The cameras use machine vision, is the technical term for it, but to look and see where the stripes on the road are and also to see the car in front of you and assume that if you’re on a freeway that if you’re following someone that they’re not driving off into the ditch so the car will follow the car in front of it as well.

DR. HALLOWELL: Jeff, who’s a professional driver, has logged thousands of miles behind the wheel of the Tesla. He knows this car extremely well. He thinks distracted drivers will be a big challenge for the self-driving car. In other words, it’s not going to take over the car completely. You will still, as the driver, have ultimate responsibility. If you’re completely distracted, it can be very dangerous.

Jeff Sabatini: I think one of the difficult things with a lot of this new technology, not just autonomous technology, but any of these new technologies that have made it into the auto industry, consumers are not generally aware of how they work and they may not understand what to do in all use scenarios. It’s like when anti-lock brakes appeared on the market and you’d have people still trying to pump the breaks not realizing that anti-lock brakes do that for you. If you have anti-lock brakes on your car, the car can always break better than you can and apply those rapid bursts of breaking to slow down on slippery conditions. When you pump them, it negates the ABS effect. There are other technologies since that there’s always a learning curve with the public.

Closing Statements

DR. HALLOWELL: Would you buy a self-driving car? I know I wouldn’t. With my level of distractibility, I would not feel safe in one. How about you? Maybe you think I’m wrong. Maybe you’re excited because, after all, this is the future. There’s no doubt this is progress in the sense of that’s where we’re headed, like it or not. Please let us know. We’ll put a poll on our Facebook page. We really want to know what you think.

It’s the ongoing question that this podcast looks at. The relationship between connection and distraction. Obviously, we are promoting connection but at the same time trying to minimize distraction. Let me also take this chance to thank the editors of Car and Driver for their wonderful help, assistance, expert advice, and guidance. And let me urge you to go to their podcast, the Car and Driver podcast. It’s full of wonderful information and cool stuff. As is ours, so subscribe to us both. Distraction and the Car and Driver podcast. Distraction is produced by Collisions, the podcast division of CRN International. Collisions, podcast for curious people.

That’s it. If you have a question or a suggestion, call us toll free at 844-55-CONNECT or email us at [email protected]. To hear more mini and full length episodes, subscribe to Distraction on iTunes and thanks so much for listening.

This is a transcript of the podcast Distraction, “Dashboard Diversions: Are New Cars Safer or Scarier?”. Distraction is available on iTunes.

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