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Dealer’s Voice: On-board tech creates safety, not distractions

by Frank Romeo

This post originally appeared on the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association website ( and the Toronto Star

One of my first cars came equipped with a vintage 8-Track stereo system, which was a reasonably high-tech product for its time (mid-1970s). It provided endless hours of listening enjoyment.

By today’s standards, the beloved 8-Track seems like an ancient relic in its design, functionality and reliability.

Fast forward 37 years and drivers are no less enamored with their on-board audio devices, as well as their satellite navigation systems, electronic dashboards and a myriad of other digital gadgets.

In the past few years, drivers have become more connected to (and reliant upon) on-board electronic and digital devices than ever before. This trend is influencing industries from computers, software and electronics to auto manufacturers, new car dealerships and aftermarket suppliers.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, many automakers showed up to demonstrate their latest advancements in on-board connectivity (some introduced new products, others announced strategic partnerships with computer firms).

On-board connectivity is the subject of an annual trade conference (Frost & Sullivan’s Urban Mobility 3.0), which explores the impact of connectivity on drivers, transportation systems and other industries affected by this growing trend.

Today, when consumers shop for vehicles, they are still interested in comfort, styling, safety, performance, price and resale value. But more and more attention is being paid to information display systems and digital technologies, important selling features on new vehicles.

In this digital/mobile era, it’s reasonable that car shoppers are interested in on-board connectivity. A recent study by The NPD Group reported that “84 per cent of vehicle owners have portable media devices whereas 79 per cent of vehicle owners are using them in their car.”

The same study said that 32 per cent of car shoppers look for in-car connectivity as an important factor in their purchasing decision.

On-board electronics have become so prevalent that some dealers are now offering orientation sessions to help car owners to better understand and utilize the full range of technologies and devices at their fingertips.

Lexus has begun hiring vehicle delivery specialists and technology specialists, who help customers to operate the sophisticated electronics and digital products. I suspect that this service will become standard practice at most dealerships in the near future.

Without question, increased connectivity is altering the driver experience in significant and positive ways. Literally surrounded by technology, drivers can now seamlessly co-ordinate their music preferences, plan driving routes, find hotels and restaurants, and interact with social media using touchscreen or voice-activated technology.

Naysayers may dismiss on-board electronics as added distractions for drivers who should be paying attention to the road. I understand and share those concerns — to a point.

Driver inattention and careless driving are the major causes of road accidents, and I support strategies and/or technologies that will help make our roads and highways safer.

But once a driver is comfortable with a given technology (hands-free mobile device, touch-screen controls), utilizing these features is second nature. If you own a smartphone, you’ll know that it took time to learn all of its features and now you control those features with ease.

In the not so distant future, new on-board technologies will feature a slew of new products that will make driving even safer, products such as lane departure sensing, gesture control systems to alert drivers of vehicles in their blind spot, advanced fuel management systems, real-time road condition alerts, and more.

Rather than creating further distractions for drivers, today’s on-board technologies are making driving more comfortable, efficient and safer.

Some of the newer technologies that I’ve seen demonstrated are truly mind boggling — they are as cool as they are useful, and about as far removed from those 8-Track players as you can get.

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