Should We Allow Internet in Cars?

by on January 7, 2010 · 14 comments

I was on CNBC today live from the floor of the CES show in Vegas debating the question of whether allowing Internet access in cars and other in-vehicle digital technologies was a good idea. I was up against Nicholas Ashford, an MIT technology & law professor. In-vehicle communications and entertainment technologies are a major theme of this year’s show, especially with Ford’s announcement of some very cool new technologies.

I argued that education, not regulation, was the answer. We should educate drivers about safe and sensible use of in-vehicle technologies. We should also encourage the technology providers to continue to give us more voice-activated tools so we can interact with these technologies safely. Ford’s new systems, for example, have some very impressive voice-activated features. Finally, our law enforcement officials should continue to enforce “distracted driver” laws that penalize drivers who are a threat to others for any reason. That is the better approach compared to trying to ban these technologies.

You can find the video of the debate here.

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  • http://angrydictator.com PJ Doland

    I, for one, actually love the idea that the guy in the left lane on 66 might be in the middle of conducting a World of Warcraft raid with his guild buddies while he's changing into my lane at 70 MPH.

    Isn't technology great?

  • http://techliberation.com/author/berinszoka/ Berin Szoka

    Old Man Ashford has a particularly strange version of freedom. I don't recall ever “voluntarily submitting” to speed limits. He also misses the point when he suggests that we would just be relying on the police to deal with this problem. What about insurance?

    Anyone who has ever gotten home owners (or renters) insurance, knows that insurance companies give discounts for safety features, like having a sprinkler system or a sophisticated fire/security system that will call the fire department or police if something happens. As these technologies start to roll out in the marketplace, it's a pretty safe bet that insurance companies will evaluate the technology in the car when deciding how much to charge in insurance premiums. That in turn creates a powerful incentive for automobile manufacturers to include “safety by design” in their products. For instance, we would expect an insurance company to charge a much lower premium for a car whose onboard computer can both talk to the driver and understand the drivers commands in such a way that the driver doesn't have to ever look at a screen (or perhaps even goes one step farther and dims or adjust the screen while the car is moving so that the driver can't see it, but perhaps the person in the passenger seat still can) than for a car whose computer requires the driver's eyes or figures to use. In fact, why would any insurance company right policy for a car whose onboard computer actually does allow them to play World of Warcraft while driving?

    The point is that here, as in any market, it's not just a question of individual consumers being helpless to overcome their own worst impulses. As I've noted in the case of texting while driving, markets create incentives for us to act responsibly, including for us to bind our future selves with technology that denies us the “freedom” do certain things that probably aren't good for us (or other drivers on the road).

    But the critical advantage of relying on technological empowerment (including self-control functionalities) is that it allows us to use technology smartly, rather than simply banning it outright. He also avoids the dangerous precedent of the government rushing to ban technologies simply because of the potential for abuse, rather than looking to innovation to address those concerns.

  • ducksauce

    It is not producer created demand. It is something that people are already doing, particularly among those whose vocation is based in a vehicle (truckers).

  • gcr

    Laws can create incentives too. Making it easier to hold drivers and manufacturers accountable for unsafe practices and designs will create incentives for safety features and disincentivize dangerous ones. A cyclist killed or maimed by a driver of one of these Internet cars may prefer to be alive and unhurt rather than able to sue. But that may be enough to end practices that are “unsafe at any Mbps.”

  • http://blog.ericreasons.com Eric Reasons

    I think we need to get over our idea that the Internet = webpages. I'm finding this with my Droid already. My radio? Pandora for music, Podcasts for talk radio and news . My map? Google Navigation. My phone? hands-free.

    I'm sure this same overreaction occurred when they introduced car radios back in the day. Bad drivers should be punished for being bad drivers. You can't legislate against stupidity.

  • http://blog.ericreasons.com Eric Reasons

    I think we need to get over our idea that the Internet = webpages. I'm finding this with my Droid already. My radio? Pandora for music, Podcasts for talk radio and news . My map? Google Navigation. My phone? hands-free.

    I'm sure this same overreaction occurred when they introduced car radios back in the day. Bad drivers should be punished for being bad drivers. You can't legislate against stupidity.

  • wondering

    So are you for or against it? Does safety matter?

  • http://angrydictator.com PJ Doland

    In general, I would probably tend to favor restrictions on non-navigational or non-instrumental display devices being within view of the driver.

  • http://www.saltlakeusedcars.com/ Salt Lake Used Cars

    Agree with Eric. The Internet has a lot of great applications in cars…I mean, I don't want drivers checking out Youtube on the road, but I like the idea of Pandora in the car, maybe free turn-by-turn directions with real-time traffic and weather updates, etc.

  • http://www.saltlakeusedcars.com/ Salt Lake Used Cars

    Agree with Eric. The Internet has a lot of great applications in cars…I mean, I don't want drivers checking out Youtube on the road, but I like the idea of Pandora in the car, maybe free turn-by-turn directions with real-time traffic and weather updates, etc.

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