August 02, 2012, 8:04 PM — U.S. drivers seem to hold conflicting opinions on in-car Internet access, viewing the technology as a driving hazard and even a threat to privacy while praising the entertainment and safety features it offers.
These opinions, presented in a Harris Interactive poll released Wednesday, come as automakers are seeing increased driver demand for digital technology and are adding more of it to their vehicles.
More than three out of four (76 percent) of the survey's 2,634 respondents answered that in-car connectivity causes too much distraction and is dangerous to have in vehicles. Automakers have gone too far in including this technology in their vehicles, according to 55 percent of those surveyed. U.S. drivers tend to attach strong emotions to their vehicles, and the poll reinforced that view, with 61 percent of people saying their car is "a haven from the outside world" and they don't always need an outside connection.
The auto industry said it understands the technology's potential safety risks and incorporates it in a way that creates the fewest disruptions. Integrating a smartphone into a car reduces the distractions that would be present if the phone was simply placed in the passenger seat, said Wade Newton, director of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM), an automotive trade group whose 12 members include Ford, Mazda, Toyota and General Motors.
"If the phone rings you have to reach over, grab it and see who's calling," he said. "If it is integrated, with one button they can accept the call, turn down the radio and open the speakers."
Integrated mobile phone use was an early example of in-car connectivity. Now the technology can turn vehicles into wireless hotspots, allow people to search the Web from dashboard touchscreens and connect to roadside assistance services by pressing a button.
All auto makers have introduced in-car connectivity features in some degrees and promote them on their websites. When asked to comment on the survey, though, some of the manufacturers declined to comment and others did not respond to interview requests by deadline.
BMW USA did reply to an interview request but could not comment on the survey. However, in an emailed statement, the company said that interest in safe motoring "is a healthy sign that consumers are concerned about distraction while driving, and we consider that a big success."
The statement added that BMW uses "science-based analysis" to incorporate smartphones and other in-car technology into its vehicles. "We have 5 driving simulators that are constantly evaluating the driver experience, plus we do mobile driver clinics in Europe, the U.S., and the Far East to assess driver reactions," the company said.