Question: What has Big Auto learned from Big Tobacco?
We now know that Big Tobacco knew of the addictive and harmful medical properties of cigarettes for years but kept that knowledge secret, while publicly denying the facts. That story didn’t have a happy ending for either the Tobacco Industry or their customers. The only group that came out a winner were the Trial Lawyers.
Cut to the present. We find the Auto Industry on the verge of introducing a range of new products that will no doubt cause serious injury and death to many of their customers. To say nothing of innocent bystanders (can you say ‘second hand smoke’). Meanwhile they are taking a public position claiming the exact opposite; improved safety.
This week at The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas the New York Times reports that
… to the dismay of safety advocates already worried about driver distraction, automakers and high-tech companies have found a new place to put sophisticated Internet-connected computers: the front seat …
Some people in the auto industry are publicly claiming that they can design complex interactive systems for the automobile so well that safety will actually be improved. While driving, you’ll be able to look up restaurants at your destination, get a stock quote, catch up on email, and even (so help me) tweet your latest thoughts. All without “taking your hands off the wheel”.
If you have some free time you can watch a video interview with Alan Mulally the CEO of Ford Motor Co. discussing these new systems. Before taking over the reins at Ford, Mr. Mullaly was CEO of the Boeing Company where he began his career as an engineer and helped design the avionics in virtually all of Boeing’s commercial jetliners.
Here are some Alan Mulally quotes from that interview:
I really believe that just like in the airplanes, by organizing the information and making it so intuitive and so simple … we are actually increasing the safety, and reducing the distractions.
[On the subject of Heads-Up Displays] … we’re finding out that if you put the information Heads-Down and really simple … that you get 90% of the benefit and it’s better than going Heads-Up and [then] Heads-Down.
The industry believes that the differences between a [highly trained] pilot/cockpit system and an [untrained] driver/dashboard system can be overcome with good engineering and lots of technology. It’s also clear that they are doing significant human factors research to support that assertion. But, inevitably they will have reams of data showing that much of the time that’s not good enough. Even with both of your hands on the wheel.
And if you believe that just by keeping your hands on the wheel those activities are rendered safe, you must also believe that Pigs Can Fly while they talk on their iPhones.
To me this sounds like the Big Tobacco story all over again; so come back in 10 years or so after the class action suits have begun and the Attorney Generals are wading thru all that (subpoenaed) human factors data and doing statistical analysis on accident reports.
Where oh where can I buy stock in the Trial Lawyers?
Bob, great post. Our ERGOLAB team of Occupational Safety & Health pros agree. (our post from 1.08.10 – http://bit.ly/ERGOLABFord) Thanks for sharing the video, good stuff.
Good post. I have often wondered what would happen to the auto industry if they were help accountable for the carnage they have caused over the past century from making unsafe cars when making safe ones would have been just as easy. I know of no other industry that has been allowed to kill and cripple as many people with their product as the auto industry. (Well okay, maybe the tobacco industry.)
But wait there’s more … if it wasn’t so serious an issue there is a huge vein of humor to explore. I didn’t bother to mention it, but Sync is powered by Microsoft.
“MyFord Touch interface and graphics are powered by the next generation of Ford SYNC®, built on Microsoft’s Windows Embedded Auto platform.”
Remember all those jokes about what the world would be like if Microsoft built cars? Go ahead and Google “if Microsoft built cars” and sit back with a cup of coffee.
Personally, I’m waiting for The Onion to pick it up.
I wouldn’t worry about the car companies. They were never held accountable for giant SUVs with outrageous bumper heights… eventually they were required to lower the bumper heights but they didn’t have to lower the frames, so the bumpers are cantilevered down and in accidents they fold back up and the frame comes right into the passenger compartment of any car they hit. Car companies are a wonderful example of huge companies with multiple interests- big money and labor unions both want them to be healthy so they have many ways to extract political rent.