However, these devices, which have little to do with the actual driving of the car, are becoming more and more advanced - presenting many problems for designers and users alike. The permanently increasing complexity of in-car electronics and the rapidly growing amount of sensors, actuators and electronic control units, make the data increasingly more difficult to keep secure, correct and failsafe.
In a recent survey carried out by Goldman Sachs in America, there are approximately 200 million cars in the United States and an incredible 500 million passenger hours each week is spent inside them. In another survey, Delphi Automotive research found that more than a third of PDA owners use their PDA's whilst driving and that almost half of all US motorists would like the facility to access their e-mail whilst on the road.2
Car makers are, of course, nervous about motorists not paying attention to the road and having accidents, as well as the remote possibility of a glitch in the add-on electronics triggering a brake seizure or engine shutdown. The possibility of expensive lawsuits against them is a risk that they do not want to take. This threat has, until now, made most mainstream manufacturers shy away from providing too much computer control in their vehicles. In recent years this has led to a surge of activity in the development and sale of add-on products by third party manufacturers for vehicles to provide entertainment, navigation and comfort controls. Now the trend seems to be for car makers to provide much more complicated electronics as standard in even comparatively cheap models. All of this has predictably created a huge debate as to whether this type of electronic aid should be allowed to be used whilst driving the car or at least whether these aids are wanted or not.
Studies into driving safety are, of course, not new. Driving whilst Drunk or under the influence of drugs has for many decades been seen as a serious problem on our roads and can result in a ban for the offender, if caught. More recently though with the widespread use of mobile phones, legislation has been put in place in order to make our roads safer. As of the first of December 2003, the use of mobile phones whilst driving in the UK has been made illegal due to an increasing number of mobile phone related incidents on the roads. Many now argue that tuning in a car radio or programming a GPS system whilst on the move is just as dangerous whilst driving, though no laws exist currently in the UK to restrict the use of these whilst driving.
In America, many cities and states have similar laws regarding mobile handsets and many arguments on the safety of in-car electronics have been made. The New England Journal of Medicine, for example, published an article in 1997 claiming that cell phone users have the same chance of accidents as drunken drivers and also warned against concluding "that cellular telephones are harmful and that their use