Do Cars Have Too Many Distracting Gadgets?

Drivers are concerned about distraction and privacy

New cars are a gadget freak's dream; sophisticated navigation systems, Internet connectivity for mobile devices, systems to monitor your driving habits and a system that automatically summons help.

Consumers have never been happier, right? Not quite, according to a survey by Harris Interactive. It finds that 76 percent of car owners believe in-car connectivity technologies are too distracting and even dangerous to have. More than half -- 55 percent -- say that automakers have taken technology for road use too far.

In the past, one of the only technology distractions in the car was changing the station on the radio. Now, according to Harris' survey of adults 18 and older, 62 percent of drivers worry that all this technology and connectivity could pose serious privacy issues. They express the worry that someone could be keeping track of where and how they drive.

Is my insurance company watching?

For example, 41 percent of respondents said they think their insurance rates could increase because of what in-car technology reveals about their driving habits. This is more of a concern among younger drivers between 18 and 35, and men, the survey found.

The engineers who designed these systems obviously were operating under the assumption that consumers want to be connected and want different forms of sophisticated technology at their fingertips. But is it a valid assumption?

In the Harris survey, three in five consumers said they view their car as a haven from the outside world and don't always want to be connected while driving. On the other hand, more than half of car owners confessed that in-car connectivity makes driving more enjoyable and makes them feel safer while on the road.

Demographic differences

When it comes to automotive technology, there are important demographic differences. Men like it more than women do. Young people value it more than their parents.

In fact, it's the baby boom generation that finds staying connected while in their vehicle the least important. Only 39 percent of car owners 50-to-66 think in-car connectivity is important compared to 58 percent of those who are between 18 and 35.

Of course, not all technology is entertainment-related. Some can enhance safety. A previous Harris study found that safety technologies such as back-up cameras, blind spot warning systems and pedestrian sensors have seen the most interest in the past year, compared with entertainment and connectivity technologies.

"The data shows that consumers generally favor the safety and entertainment they find with in-car connectivity, but they don't want to give up their privacy by sharing detailed information about their driving habits with companies that may stand to benefit from the information," said Mike Chadsey, Vice President, Automotive Solutions Consultant, Harris Interactive.

And the fear of technology distraction seems to be a very real concern, often outweighing the other perceived benefits of having in-car connectivity options. Chadsey says car makers should take note -- too much of a good thing may just be too much.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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