Return of the Guru

Internet Behind the Wheel: A Looming Disaster

Ara Trembly
Insurance Experts' Forum, July 8, 2010

One of the unfortunate consequences of living in this age of instant media is that the most bone-headed ideas get thrown out there for public consumption before anyone has really had an opportunity to think about them. 

Take the recent report in the newsletter of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that consumers “have their hearts set on in-car Internet access, and they don’t seem particularly worried about safety issues that may arise from this connectivity,” according to a survey by Autobytel.

Sixty-eight percent of respondents younger than 35 said the ability to surf the Internet from inside their cars was either “very important” or “nice to have,” the survey notes. When asked if they’d like safer communication alternatives, such as voice-controlled devices that minimize distraction, only 14% of respondents overall favored them, and only 8% of the younger drivers in the sample thought they were a good idea. 

The obvious safety issue, of course, is with the driver of the vehicle having access to the onboard Internet link and accompanying display from behind the wheel.  Let’s face it; the average Web page has more than enough distractions on it to command our attention.  Are we supposed to think it is okay for drivers—who are controlling 1,000-pound (or more) vehicles at highway speeds of 55 and way up—to surf their favorite Web sites at the same time?  If the same drivers then cause chaos on the roads, smash up property or take the innocent lives of others, do we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh well; too bad.”? 

Certainly that would not be our attitude if the drivers were drunk or high on drugs, yet no one seems to realize that with a distraction as powerful as the Internet, the results could be just as tragic. It’s as if those responding to this survey were somehow incapable of taking the idea of Web-in-the-car—neat on its face—to its logical next step.  Is that a function of their relative youth and inexperience?  We can only hope so because if this is their level of caring and compassion, we are all in deep trouble. 

One solution might be to provide such access, but only for the passengers.  Perhaps that might work if there was a non-movable display that only passengers in the rear seats could see.  But what about the poor passengers in the front seat?  And of course, if the front seat passengers have a viewable display, the driver is likely to be able to see it as well.  The problem only gets worse if we put the displays on moveable, adjustable armatures that the driver can adjust to give himself or herself a better surfing experience—never mind the realities of the world outside. 

My readers might point out that we already have displays designed for the driver in the form of GPS devices, and they don’t seem to be a distracting factor for drivers.  Fair enough, but the number of distracting elements on an average Web page will far exceed what the average GPS user will view on the display.  In addition, for the most part, GPS displays don’t offer lots of opportunities for user interaction by clicking links, as Web pages do. 

And what are the insurance implications of putting yet another powerful distraction into our moving vehicles?  Would having onboard Internet immediately result in a hefty boost in one’s auto premium?  I would think so, especially in light of the fact that underwriters would have no real-world experience on which to base their judgments, thus they would tend to err on the side of caution. 

It’s bad enough that we have so many drivers with cell phones stuck in their ears or with one hand and half a brain (and they really don’t have it to spare) on a texting-enabled device.  It’s just common sense that more distractions will equal more accidents, more damage, more injuries and more deaths. 

But the public wants it, and to some, that is all that matters. 

Ara C. Trembly ( is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Ara using the “Add Your Comments” box below. He can also be reached at

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