Android logoGoogle has announced that it has partnered with Audi, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai and chip maker Nvidia to bring Android to the dashboards of new cars, reports Keith Barry for in a USA Today article. The announcement was made yesterday, which was press day at the Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in Las Vegas, Barry writes.

The first Android-equipped vehicles are set to be on the market later this year, writes Damon Lavrinc for Wired. He quotes a Google spokesman as saying the new interface is designed to help drivers: “The expansion of the Android platform into automotive will allow our industry partners to more easily integrate mobile technology into cars and offer drivers a familiar, seamless experience so they can focus on the road,” Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Google’s Android, Chrome and Apps, said in the announcement.

In a post on Android’s official blog, Patrick Brady, director of Android engineering, elaborates, with emphasis on the word “safe”:

Today, millions of people already bring Android phones and tablets into their cars, but it’s not yet a driving-optimized experience. Wouldn’t it be great if you could bring your favorite apps and music with you, and use them safely with your car’s built-in controls and in-dash display? Together with our OAA partners, we’re working to enable new forms of integration with Android devices, and adapting Android for the car to make driving safer, easier and more enjoyable for everyone. Putting Android in the car will bring drivers apps and services they already know and love, while enabling automakers to more easily deliver cutting-edge technology to their customers. And it will create new opportunities for developers to extend the variety and depth of the Android app ecosystem in new, exciting and safe ways.

Wired reports that the Open Automotive Alliance, which has joined forces with the above-mentioned partners in working to make Android “a common platform for in-car infotainment,” has been in touch with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “to ensure the interface is ‘safer, more seamless and more intuitive for everyone.’ ”

As this blog has reported, NHTSA has previously asked automakers to voluntarily make new vehicles safer by limiting the distraction risk for in-car electronic devices, including systems designed for communication, entertainment, information gathering, navigation and other features not needed to safely operate a vehicle. And in a November 13 post, we wrote about a study that found more people of all ages surfing the Web while driving.

Hands-free infotainment systems are not the solution to distracted driving, Kevin Short wrote in a Huffington Post article several months ago. Safety advocates, he reported, have accused automakers of misrepresenting safety concerns when touting infotainment systems.

Short went on to say:

Far from making driving safer, they say, these infotainment systems simply enable carmakers to pack their models with high-priced devices that still create cognitive distractions for drivers — with potentially fatal consequences.

‘Simply keeping a driver’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road isn’t enough to keep someone safe,’ Justin McNaull, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association, told The Huffington Post. ‘Just because you can put a technology in a vehicle and a consumer might want to use it doesn’t mean it’s right, safe or appropriate to do so.’

Drivers who engage in complex multitasking have a decrease in brain function and reaction time and an increase in auto crash risk, according to a study by the American Automobile Association and the University of Utah, Short wrote. The Consumer Electronics Association (a trade group representing 2,000 companies) asserted that the study was flawed.

The auto industry, Short wrote, supports a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in which cameras installed in 204 cars monitored drivers for 31 days. That study found that distracted driving risks were mainly due to visual and manual distractions, Short reported:

‘The risk lies in when your eyes are off the road,’ Gregory Fitch, the study’s author, told HuffPost. ‘If you can keep your eyes on the road, you’re going to be fine.’

Short also quotes David Teater, senior director of the National Safety Council:

‘I don’t know why you would just charge forth blindly putting these technologies in vehicles when you’ve got research telling you it’s dangerous,’ he said.

Further complicating the safety debate is the fact that automobile infotainment systems are being developed faster than independent researchers can analyze their effects.

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