Ford introduced a new feature in its vehicles that reads text messages aloud, pointing to increased automaker efforts to reduce the dangerous practice of texting and driving.
The technology is part of Ford’s voice-activated system, Sync. It connects to a driver’s cell phone via Bluetooth and sends an alert when a text is received, reads it aloud, and allows the user to choose a pre-written response without removing his or her hands from the wheel.
Sync is currently installed on all 2012 Ford vehicles except the Ranger. It is also available as an upgrade to older models that are 2010 or later.
The danger of distracted driving has been the subject of much research, with one recent Texas A&M study revealing drivers reacted twice as slowly when reading or sending a text.
Statistics like these highlight the need for further safety measures by regulators, technology companies and the automotive industry.
Ford’s feature is not the first attempt to curtail distracted driving. A new breed of apps became available this year that do everything from blocking calls and texts inside a vehicle to sending parents an alert when teenagers engage in unsafe driving behaviors.
Incorporating mobile technology in vehicles by itself is nothing new. The Toyota Friend service allows drivers to receive messages from their electric cars about when they need to be charged, fluid levels and vehicle performance.
But Ford’s new feature takes technologies like these a step further, incorporating hands-free texting capabilities in every vehicle to improve safety rather than blocking the communication method altogether.
Unlike hands-free calling, which comes standard in many vehicles, text-to-voice has not yet reached widespread use, especially given that most smartphones don’t yet support the technology.
However, as texting grows more prevalent and the need for hands-free messaging grows, more mobile devices will likely support it, potentially putting Ford at the forefront of improving driver safety.