When it comes to our cars, is the Internet of Things a godsend? Or a hidden menace that will create more problems than it will solve?
On the same day General Motors announced it will equip newer-model cars with its in-dash Marketplace e-commerce app, a prominent safety group was shooting it down. National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman tells Bloomberg the technology will only contribute to distracted driving and hurt efforts to stem the tide of rising auto fatalities, which grew 5.6 percent to more than 37,000 in the U.S. in 2016. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says distracted driving was responsible for 3,477 fatalities and 391,000 injuries in 2015, the most recent year for which it has data.
"There's nothing about this that's safe," Hersman told Bloomberg. "If this is why they want WiFi in the car, we're going to see fatality numbers go up even higher than they are now."
Marketplace, developed with IBM, will allow drivers — or more often, one hopes, their passengers — to order coffee or food, find gas stations and reserve hotel rooms from their dashboard screens. The technology is set to be uploaded automatically to nearly 1.9 million GM vehicles model-year 2017 and later that are equipped with WiFi hotspots and compatible systems. By the end of 2018, about 4 million Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicles will be equipped with Marketplace.
The app will debut with a limited number of participating retailers, including TGI Fridays, Shell, Exxon Mobil and Starbucks, with more likely to join later. Online retail giant Amazon is also partnering with automakers such as Ford to bring e-commerce capabilities inside the car through its Alexa personal assistant.
While convenience is nice, one other thing is becoming clear as the IoT wedges its way into our cars: It's taking aim at some decidedly first-world problems.