Jeremy Anwyl,CEO of Edmunds.com, called me up to ask if I would like to be interviewed while reviewing the new SYNC control system for Ford Motor Company. I agreed, and so one day in January 2011, he rolled up with a brand new 2011 Ford Explorer and a crew of sound and video folks. I spent quite a bit of time in the driver's seat of the car, reviewing and commenting on the control structures that Ford, Sony, and Microsoft had constructed.
What did I think? See the interview, Safety Designed In. There is nothing in the interview that i haven't said before, especially in the book "Design of Future Things," which covered these issues in much greater depth. The interview is a readable, short summary with very nice photos of the interior of the modern auto.
Executive summary: The modern car is far too complex, thus creating potential dangerous conditions. Instead of concentrating on the road, the driver controls the entertainment and comfort system: lots of controls, lots of menus, and screens that have to be watched to ensure the right item is selected. Driving is deceptively simple. Not much attention is required. But when danger does strike, it is usually unexpected, requiring an appropriate response in fractions of a second. What if the eyes are off the road? Driving is deceptively simple for such a dangerous activity.
Click on the photo of the car interior, as seen from the Driver's position: I count roughly 20 switches on the steering wheel alone. (One control counts as anywhere between 1 and 5 items depending upon the number of positions it has -- the two joy-stick controls, one on the left, one on the right, each count as 5.)
It would be great if we could restrict the non-driving functions to passengers, but it simply is not possible. Try keeping people from using their cellphones, even though the data clearly show the danger (even hands-free). What about you? Ever talk on the cellphone while driving a car, riding a bike, or walking across a crowded street?
That is why I believe the only solution is full automation: cars that drive themselves. That will reduce the number of accidents by a huge amount. But when there will be an accident, it is apt to be a big one, with hundreds of injuries. (More in "Design of Future Things,")