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Does In-Car Fantasy Baseball from Ford Go too Far?

The 2011 Ford Edge has optional Field of Dreams capabilities.

Ford’s new SYNC TDI system will let you track your fantasy baseball team on the go. I’ve written about some far-out connectivity features in some of the cars I’ve tested, and how they may impact driver awareness, but this is taking things to a new level.

While cars like the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid give box scores via a screen on the dash, SYNC TDI updates fantasy baseball team managers with player stats through voice commands and audio. Here’s a video showing how it works.

In addition to the fantasy updates, the system can give drivers weather reports, movie listings and stock quotes. It can also connect you to airlines, hotel chains and rental car companies.

While it’s great that the SYNC TDI system does all of this with the driver’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, that doesn’t guarantee that the driver isn’t distracted. In a March 2010 white paper, the National Safety Council argued that even using a hands-free phone lead to a level of multitasking that the brain couldn’t handle. “Distracted drivers experience what researchers call inattention blindness, similar to that of tunnel vision. Drivers are looking out the windshield, but they do not process everything in the roadway environment that they must know to effectively monitor their surroundings, seek and identify potential haz­ards, and respond to unexpected situations.”  

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that hands-free cell phones are not safer than hand-held phones, “at least not after the conversation begins.” In fact, “Two studies of crashes using cell phone billing records to verify phone use found about a fourfold increase in crash risk with conversing on both hands-free and hand-held phones. … Hands-free phones may eliminate some of the physical distraction of handling phones, but the cognitive distraction from phone conversations remains.” While there’s no research that compares talking on a hands-free phone to listening to fantasy baseball updates, thinking about baseball stats means some of a driver’s attention is taken away from the road.

It’s tough to argue that an infotainment system that uses voice commands is worse than one that requires the driver to look at a screen. But the real question is, even with voice commands and audio feeds, are today’s drivers simply doing too much in their cars? What do you think?

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