Ford Adds Features to SYNC in Hopes of Improving Driver Safety

Those of us who know we need to resist the temptation to text while driving but have difficulty stopping ourselves might get some help from several new additions to Ford's SYNC, a system that allows connectivity in the car.

One of the new additions to SYNC is a “do-not-disturb” button that allows a driver to block incoming calls and texts. Ford is also integrating Bluetooth Message Access Profile (MAP), which will let users have messages read to them as they drive.

Furthermore, Research In Motion (RIM), maker of BlackBerry smartphones, plans to use MAP to integrate SYNC to work with its smartphones as well. Ford hopes that this adoption will increase the number of devices that can communicate wirelessly with the SYNC system.

“Text messaging has become the default communications method for consumers of all ages,” said John Schneider, chief engineer at Ford multimedia and infotainment engineering, in a statement. “The power of SYNC voice control, combined with Ford’s latest connectivity improvements, will reduce the temptation to pick up the phone and take your eyes off the road, providing a safer solution for the use of mobile devices in the car.”

Other changes include an overall “lock out” so other connected features not used for driving, such as searching the Web, would be put on hold while the car is in motion. However, having this addition to SYNC is somewhat different than just shutting your device off since a driver can still make outgoing calls using voice commands and use the SYNC 911 feature in case of an emergency.

“With the improvements we’re making to SYNC, it encourages the use of voice,” says Alan Hall, communications manager of technology and design at Ford. “For instance, our navigation system locks out the ability to type in an address while driving, yet features one-shot destination voice entry allowing the driver to provide the entire address (123 Main Street, Detroit) versus going through menus (Detroit then Main Street then 123.)”

According to a 100-car study by Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute, drivers taking their attention off of the road for more than a few seconds resulted in nearly 80 percent of all car accidents. Ford hopes that these new measures will help improve safety.

However, will these measures be enough to keep drivers from distraction? Chris Schreiner, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics, a firm that often focuses on automotive electronics and entertainment, isn't so sure. “My opinion is that this announcement is partly in response to criticism Ford received for announcing the capability to receive Twitter updates by voice,” he says.

Shreiner went on to say that the lock-out function seems to be used only for inputting manual functions and that the user will rely on voice control for everything else. “While voice control has been shown in many cases to be a safer alternative for tasks such as phone dialing...Ford will have to be careful to ensure that the voice control is extremely accurate," he states. "As drivers make errors with voice control, more attention is diverted from driving to the secondary voice task, and multiple errors or difficulty in correcting errors can lead to performance as poor as performing the task manually.”

The new additions will be available in 2011 models with MyFord or MyLincoln Touch; the first cars to add the do not disturb button will be the Ford Edge and the Lincoln MKX.

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