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New cars, new tech: Safe, or dangerous?

Courtesy Devon Walker

In today’s cars, new technology exists to make daily living easier. From Ford’s foot activated trunk release to new ways that vehicles shift, technology has changed in drastic ways since the year 2000.

This technology isn’t exclusive to cars and minivans, it is also found SUVs and trucks. Some trucks, for instance, do come with new technology such as a rearview camera, which makes it easy for the inexperienced to back up without straining the neck or doing guess work. But not all do, and in some cases the new technology costs extra.

Here is some of the new technology you can expect in cars today that you DO NOT have to pay extra for:

*Hands-free Bluetooth: lets you connect your phone to the vehicle’s audio system so that you can keep your hands on the wheel and stay focused on the road

*Built-in GPS navigation: this allows you to always have directions handy on-the-go, instead of using an additional device (Tomcat, your phone, etc),

*Keyless entry: Hit a button on your car key remotely and the car doors unlock, even if you are nowhere near the door.

Other new technology may come at a price, such as rearview camera, rear climate control, and Ford’s Park Assist.

Some technology does have its critics, though. Victor Bast, a Northampton Community College Assistant Professor in Automotive Technology, questions the safety of keyless entry.

“I don’t think it’s any safer than using your own key to open your car door,” Bast said. “Except for the panic button feature, which sounds the horn and flashes the lights on the vehicle, deterring the thief from stealing your vehicle.”

Bast is more of an advocate for the safety of  hands-free Bluetooth.

“It is safe,” he says.”  Less of a distraction, more of a voice recognition command.”

Robert Migliacco of Milham Ford Toyota Scion agrees.

“Bluetooth can be safer as you can keep both hands on the wheel compared to having one hand on the wheel and one holding the phone,” he said.  So, I would say yes.”

But auto features and automobiles as a whole are getting safer. Vehicles now, compared to the safety of earlier models? “Clearly they are better,” Migliaccio said. “Airbag systems are better, child restraint is better, etc. Coded keys prevent theft.”

One of the most technologically advanced vehicles today that is affordable is the all-new Dodge Dart. When it was unveiled in 2012, the Dodge Dart was, and is, the most technically-advanced vehicle for less than $20,000. It can come with GPS, Bluetooth, OnStar emergency services, a 4-cylinder motor with a turbo, and keyless entry for around $17,000-$18,000.

Compared to other vehicles for the size, options and features, the Dart remains a cheaper vehicle for the technology involved. Another benefit for the average college student: this car comes as automatic or stick shift. Based on Car and Driver’s review, the Dodge Dart comes equipped with “an 8.4-inch UConnect Touch Media Center with voice recognition, an Alpine audio system, a full-color seven-inch TFT instrument cluster (the tach and speedo are analog), keyless entry and start, and a heated steering wheel.”

For more information on this vehicle via Car and Driver, go to http://www.caranddriver.com/news/2013-dodge-dart-photos-and-info-news-1.

Unfortunately, certain technology today is only available on certain brands. For example, the foot activated lift gate and park assist is only available on Ford brand vehicles. The 4G LTE WiFi option is only available on Chevrolet and Buick brand vehicles. This is similar to the proprietary nature of all tech companies and brands, much like mobile devices, where they have either developed the tech in-house, or have an exclusive licensing agreement with the maker of the tech. It does make it difficult if you don’t like the style of a vehicle, but that’s where automotive manufacturers and dealers like to pinch customers. Fortunately, other car manufacturers like to find ways around their competitors, so similar options do show up in other brands over time, much like “add-on” features become standard features over time.

While some new technology is only available on certain brands, some features that are exclusive to a certain vehicle. For example, the brand new Chrysler 200C and the Chrysler 300 have a turning knob as a gear selector that Chrysler calls the e-shift. This feature is supposed to make it more ergonomic for the driver to drive their vehicle. However, this feature is no included in all Chrysler cars and trucks.

The question becomes: does all this new technology make driving safer, or more dangerous?

Although the 4G LTE WiFi that comes with Chevrolet and Buick brand vehicles is convenient for the driver and passengers, it can be very dangerous. Recent news articles like Wired.com’s “Jeep hacked on a highway” have spotlighted growing concern that these vehicles, primarily Chevrolet, were falling victim to hackers. If hacked, the driver would no longer be in control of the vehicle, with the hacker about to control everything computer-affiliated within the vehicle. Speed, direction, and functions, all being controlled by a hacker with unknown intentions.

Chris Ecclestone, News Editor for the popular General Motors blog GMAuthority.com, wrote a recent article about the realities of this issue. In the article from Aug. 2015 he mentions the hacker “couldn’t drive the car away after unlocking the doors without having the vehicle’s key or key fob — a security feature available in all General Motors vehicles.” He also added that cars starting remotely during a hack will shut off after 10 minutes, and can only be started remotely twice before the owner would have to physically get in the car and start it themselves. While Ecclestone said these were security features of all GM vehicles (OnStar is wholly owned by GM), but mentions, “…allowing a stranger to track your vehicle’s exact location on a map and unlock its doors isn’t exactly the most comforting feeling.” General Motors, within a day of being aware of the security breach, disabled any ability for hackers to control their systems.
There are still disputes about what can and cannot be hacked, with myths abounding, loopholes being exposed by hackers and then closed by manufacturers on a monthly basis.

So, there are some safe technology used in vehicles, but there are dangerous ways others might abuse a person’s vehicle technology as well. But a buyer has options, and it is recommended to do further research on all prospective vehicles. Buy safe, drive safe.