We've gotten a lot of response to our blog last week on the problems with MyFord Touch.
Today, Ford held a press conference and Webcast aimed at addressing what's behind the company's introduction of new technologies and driver interface systems. In a word (or several): responding to human error and consumer desires. The company revealed results of a survey it commissioned market research firm Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) to conduct in May. They interviewed 2,506 drivers in the United States 18 years and older.
"When they're being candid, American drivers admit they're engaged in a lot of other activities while they're driving," says PSB managing director Billy Mann. Among them:
Three-quarters say they eat or drink while driving; 55 percent admit to speeding; 50 percent say they talk on a handheld phone; 37 percent admit to driving while tired; 25 percent say they pick up their handheld phone to search contacts to initiate a call; 46 percent admit to falling asleep behind the wheel or say they know someone who has; 6 in 10 say they have or have nearly collided with something in their blind spot. Yet 99 percent of them consider themselves safe drivers and are "concerned about the other guy."
Ford's answer, according to a panel of its employees on the Webcast, is to roll out what it calls "driver assistance" systems, such as forward collision warning, lane keeping, blind-spot monitoring, active cruise control systems and Park Assist. Ford lumps its MyFord Touch control system in with these systems, because it says the system helps drivers accomplish tasks on their cell-phones, such as reading and sending text messages using controls integrated into the car, including voice commands and spoken texts.
This, the company says, helps drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road. Citing other study results, Ford says most consumers want these driving aids "to help make them better drivers." Ford isn't alone in offering these kinds of systems, but it's unclear whether buyers are really willing to pay for all of this technology.
What the company didn't address: Why, if they're trying to help drivers keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road, do some versions of MyFord Touch eliminate physical buttons for simple functions such as climate control adjustments or radio tuning? That makes it nearly impossible to do simple things without looking down at the dashboard and requires much more time with your hands off the wheel. When we submitted this question on the Webcast, the company didn't respond.
Neither did Ford address whether more consumers are demanding backup cameras and aids because visibility is getting so much worse in many cars. The large Ford Taurus sedan has among the worst visibility to the rear and the front corners of any sedan we've driven. And the Ford Escape forces you to buy a high trim-level model with a $995 option package to get a backup camera. (At least Ford is a leader in building cars with inset blind spot mirrors and optional blind spot detection.)
Ford is making the same error in logic that we've seen others make: They're lumping MyFord Touch into the benefits of their Sync Bluetooth voice-command system. While MyFord Touch includes Sync, you can also get all Sync's benefits as stand-alone option on a vast majority of Fords. Using voice commands for cell phones and music players is a major improvement over physically manipulating those devices, and that indeed reduces distraction. MyFord Touch - not so much.
Studies have shown some of the other driver aids Ford mentioned today, such as forward collision mitigation (which applies the brakes even if you don't when a collision is imminent), have significant safety benefits. And Ford's hands-free Park Assist system works well in our tests and has been scientifically shown to reduce stress in parking situations. But for other systems, the data is unclear.
If you are interested in these safety aids, Ford revealed that the full complement will be available in its upcoming Fusion. The company claims it will offer more driver aids than any other family sedan. We'll see...