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?