Smarter Cars, Safer Roads

Many believe the development of ever-more connected vehicles can drastically cut the number of deaths and injuries on our roads. 

By Zeid Nasser


Studies show that cell phones are involved in a staggering 1.6 million auto accidents in the United States every year, leaving 6,000 dead and hundreds of thousands injured.

Many now believe that connecting your cell phone to your car to enable voice commands and voice read-back is one way to reduce this awful accident record. And sure enough, earlier this year, cars equipped with both Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Car Play began to appear in showrooms.

Both operating systems are designed to replace your car’s old infotainment system, which you would usually access via a dash-mounted screen. This screen typically controls your radio, navigation, climate and more, but usually suffers from confusing controls and clunky interface design. The aim is to consign such issues to history by replacing them with the familiar and more functional Apple iOS or Android Lollipop operating systems. Just plug in your smartphone, and up pop the icons and apps that you’ve long come accustomed to using.

For example, with Apple Car Play there’s even a home button on the bottom left side, which provides the same functionality as your iPhone’s home button (it takes you back to the grid of app icons). This brings us to the apps supported by Apple Car Play; a music library and streaming apps, online radio and audio book apps. There are also maps and navigation apps, but most important are Apple’s messaging and calling apps.

Thanks to Apple’s voice-command personal assistant, Siri, you can enjoy hands-free calling and messaging. You can actually ask Siri all the things you normally do, like what’s the weather or to conduct a search for you. Dictation is quite accurate, and it will read back answers to you without displaying them onscreen.

Android Auto, as you would expect, is more open as it supports third-party messaging apps. Some Google apps are actually better than their iOS counterparts, such as Google Maps. These can be activated by touch or voice dictation, which is just as good as Siri. However, Android Auto allows more touch options through function icons at the bottom of the screen which activate navigation, phone dialing, information, media, and car diagnostics.

In terms of achieving safer roads, both Android Auto and Apple Car Play don’t allow you to read messages you receive on the car screen. Instead, they’ll read them out to you. Also, the fact you can’t use social media apps like Facebook or WhatsApp messaging will reduce driver distractions. With Car Play, you don’t even receive alerts from apps that normally send notifications to your phone, while Android Auto will alert you, but read the notifications aloud without showing them on screen.

So the aim is to prevent the driver from looking at or touching the screen in front of them. With Android Auto, only when the car is stationary can you type messages onto the screen. On Apple Car Play, you can’t type at all. But both systems enable you to return calls with a single tap on the screen, or through voice commands.

It all seems very futuristic, but it’s really just a case of various technologies, such as GPS navigation and voice control, developing and converging over time to the point where we’re left with a real-life equivalent of KITT from Knight Rider.

Apple is reportedly looking to release its own fully electric, digitally enabled car by 2019. But for now, the list of manufacturers working to incorporate either or both of Apple Car Play and Android Auto includes every major car manufacturer from the United States, Europe, Japan, and Korea. The majority will offer both, which makes sense as their customers are likely to have either an Apple or Android phone.

But most importantly, once you’ve tried the convenience and functionality of “speaking” to your car, you won’t be able to imagine how people drove cars for a century without it. It’s another example of how personal technology is spoiling us, but hopefully in this case, keeping us safer rather than more distracted.