Commentary

New Nissan Altima Updates Social Media for You

Thank goodness, someone finally made a car that can post to Facebook! 

No kidding: the 2014 Nissan Altima offers drivers the option of setting the car’s digital media interface so it sends automatic responses to social media sites or text messages, letting their friends know that they can’t respond personally because, well, it would be stupidly dangerous. According to Techhive.com, which first reported the news, the driver just types whatever “away” response they would like to greet incoming text messages or post to Facebook as a status update. It’s all done through the magic of the NissanConnect smartphone app.

There’s no question that automated social media responses might relieve some psychological pressure and even save some lives, given how many people admit to using social media while driving: in April of this year a survey by CreditDonkey found that 14.8% of male social media users and 11.8% of females said they have accessed social media while driving.

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Checking social media on the road can also get you in trouble with the law in many places, which seems entirely appropriate to me. In May, Louisiana expanded its existing ban on texting while driving to include accessing social media behind the wheel. The law prohibits drivers from using “any web-based service that allows individuals to construct a profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and communicate with other members of the site,” with a fine of up to $175 for the first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

An automatic response feature for cars is especially useful considering that “hands free” voice-to-text apps may not be as safe as everyone thinks. Earlier this year a study performed for the Automobile Association of America by researchers at the University of Utah, titled “Measuring Cognitive Distraction in the Automobile,” found voice-to-text dictation is more distracting than using a handheld cell phone or talking to a passenger. Another study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that voice texting is just as distracting to drivers as manual texting. The Texas A&M study looked at driver response times while using manual texting and voice-to-text software developed for iPhone and Android smartphones. It found that drivers navigating a closed course with stoplights displayed a comparable level of distraction -- and therefore delayed response time -- regardless of which system they were using.

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