Ford announced AppLink — a downloadable software voice recognition accessory that connects drivers to their precious smart phones — back in April. It won't be available until next year, and then only in the relaunched U.S. Fiesta (My high school BF's dad had an orange one!) and the UK Focus.
Still, summer can be a slow news month in a country not in the path of tropical storms. So, using the hot Twitter angle — AppLink reads tweets out loud, but won't allow you to respond — the UK Mirror asked auto safety experts just how antithetical this alleged safety-inspired AppLink actually is.
"This technology has Jekyll-and-Hyde qualities," a spokesman from the AA (a UK auto club) told the UK Mirror. "It has positive aspects — it could entertain you on a long journey and provide valuable information about your route. But it could also be a distraction — the temptation is there to 'tweet' back if you hear one read out."
Indeed. Ford created AppLink following a 2009 report from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that revealed the dangers of driver inattention, the story goes on to mention.
How hands-free access to conversation, text messages or Twitter is going to fix that isn't clear. As long as eight years ago, the federal National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration recommended that drivers not use cell phones, even with hands-free equipment, as it's the mental distraction that is the issue.
"It's debatable whether this type of technology will help as it's likely to increase the distractions available to the driver," a representative from the Royal Auto Club (RAC — UK's version of AAA), told the Mirror. "Tweeting while driving is an unnecessary distraction and shouldn't be seen as an essential activity when behind the wheel."
Twitter, of course, is just the hot button. There's a bigger issue, the one truth most drivers cannot admit to ourselves, that we are not that one dude who can check tweets, yack on the phone, argue with a passenger, apply make-up, search for that dropped cigarette or — in the case of that dude who hit Stephen King with his minivan — wrestle a steak out of our Rottweiler's mouth while driving. Not without endangering the lives of ourselves, and more importantly, others.
There are no numbers to compare which of the above activities kills the most people on the road each year. Suffice to say, checking in on even Roger Ebert's witty 140-character bon mots while behind the wheel is as dumb a move as hands-free chatting or utilizing whatever else technology that adds to distractions on the road. While Ford's AppLink access to Twitter won't be available until next year, you don't need it now and you won't need it then either.
Follow Helen A.S. Popkin on or friend her on . What are you, chicken?