By Andrew Stoy, Crain News Service
DETROIT (April 4, 2013) — We awoke to news that yesterday the mobile phone turned 40.
On April 3, 1973, an engineer at Motorola first placed a cellular call to a scientist at Bell Labs.
It took another decade for mobile phones and mobility in the form of the car to become inextricably linked. But is one device now overtaking the other? Let's look at five ways the mobile phone may be crippling the future of the car as we know it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nine people are killed each day in America as a result of distracted driving.
While those statistics include folks chomping a Big Mac while behind the wheel, distracted driving accidents are increasingly due to texting and phoning while driving. Auto makers have responded by adding additional electronic nannies to warn us of impending doom while we're typing, making cars heavier, more complex and more expensive without reducing the tendency toward distracted driving itself.
Confusing infotainment systems
MyFord Touch is an often-cited example of the way the vehicle dashboard is increasing in complexity.
In another effort to let consumers stay connected behind the wheel, auto makers are fashioning fantastically complex multimedia infotainment systems that use the mobile phone to read you your Facebook updates and text back your friends. Unfortunately, none of them perform all these functions particularly well, resulting in a steep learning curve and an overly complex dash—all while costing auto makers millions in development costs.
Changing teen priorities
Research has found that fewer and fewer teens are bothering to get a license and buckle in. The phone is easier and cheaper.
If you're like us, your 16th birthday was a watershed moment: Nothing was more important than earning that driver's license. All that has apparently changed, though, with surveys showing a new generation of young adults less interested in driving and more reliant on their mobile devices.
Not only do kids stay in touch with their phones instead of in person, they also get instant gratification more often: The cost of upgrading to the "latest and greatest" is far cheaper with a mobile device than with a car, and in their world the phone holds as much cachet.
Facebook is increasingly taking the place of face-to-face conversations facilitated by the car.
Why burn fuel to visit friends or meet at a restaurant when you can see who checked in on Foursquare or post a photo to Facebook? Too much can get lost in translation when face-to-face conversations are sacrificed, and in most American locales a car still is what fosters those gatherings.
Lost road trips
Who care's what's going on out there? iPad!
Remember when you used to spend road-trip hours staring out the window, playing "Travel Yahtzee" or punching your sister? Our latest generation is staring at mobile DVD screens, texting friends and, increasingly, browsing the Web using the phone as an in-car mobile hot spot. The phone isn't just killing the car, it's killing the road trip.
We don't think the car is going away, but there's no doubt that modern communications have forever changed vehicle interiors and the ways in which we use automobiles.
What do you think? Has the mobile phone improved your love of the automobile—or are we headed down a dangerous path?
This article appeared in Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business. Have a comment about this story? Drop it in the comments section below.