Open letter to Alan Mulalley, CEO of Ford Motor Company

Dear Alan,

When you made the jump to Ford after leading the Boeing Airplane Company out of the doldrums, I called our broker and asked her to buy some Ford stock. I figured that someone with a keen enough understanding of the market’s product needs, technology and manufacturing to create the 787 (despite problems that surfaced after your departure) was just the person to turn Ford around. The latest business reports suggest I may have been right. And yet I am deeply troubled by one of your signature initiatives there.ford sync

You created a striking product differentiator through Ford’s new Sync technology, the company’s in-car entertainment and communication system that visually and aurally integrates mobile calling, text messaging, navigation and business geo-location, news, sports and weather information, music, podcasts, and audio books. The dashboard displays and driver interface are impressive and sexy.

But, rather than yield to the competitive argument, “If we are not the frontrunner with web-enabled dashboards, other car makers will be,” lead the industry through a better understanding about how to deliver great driver utility and still make driving safer.

Alan, I implore you to change the direction Ford is taking with “Sync” before its cars start killing the people we love. I am terrified for my two children, one of whom has just started to drive.

Listen to the growing body of research that tells us that 60-mile-an-hour Internet cafés will be killers. Get in front of the growing body of laws designed to limit driving distractions: seven states have already enacted bans on hand-held devices, twenty prohibit texting, and more legislation is in the works (http://www.distraction.gov).

Studies show that cell phone use and texting – whether or not they are done hands free – distract drivers. The New York Times’ “Driven to Distraction” series points out that – based on a Harvard study – more than 2,600 traffic deaths and 570,000 injuries are caused each year by drivers just using cell phones. Multi-tasking between a panoply of business interactions, entertainment options, and driving enabled by Sync will make cars even more deadly.

From a January 6, 2010 Times piece: “This is irresponsible at best and pernicious at worst,” Nicholas A. Ashford, a professor of technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said of the new efforts to marry cars and computers. “Unfortunately and sadly, it is a continuation of the pursuit of profit over safety — for both drivers and pedestrians.”

My 17-year-old son – the one who just got his license — and I learned firsthand from a crash prevention driving course, the ONLY thing a driver should be doing is drive.

As a long-time flight instructor, I know that Boeing’s test pilots and Ford’s ground-based counterparts would agree. As an essential part of flight instruction, we introduce distractions to our students at critical times – during a bad-weather approach or while completing a pre-landing checklist – to drive home the dangerous consequences of even momentary distractions. Driving down a two lane road, where opposite direction traffic and telephone poles are only a few feet away, every instant is critical; the penalties just as dire.

Airplane companies have a deep understanding of human factors and safety. Please, translate the lessons from your former industry to your new one.

If Ford does not listen to objective research results and hides behind specious arguments that more technology will mitigate the dangers of car cockpit distractions, I will sell my stock. Further, I pray that I will not someday accuse Ford of callous negligence because a Sync-equipped car swerved for a split second into the oncoming lane and killed my loved one – or yours.

Sincerely,

Tom Witkin

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Posted in Blogroll, driving while distracted, Tales From the Road, Uncategorized
One comment on “Open letter to Alan Mulalley, CEO of Ford Motor Company
  1. Andy says:

    Sir,

    With all due respect it is clear you have never driven a car equipped with Sync. The system simply will not allow a driver to take actions which distract, such as sending a text while moving. I have Sync on a 2010 Lincoln and its voice command system significantly REDUCES distractions. I can adjust climate controls, make an audio selection or make a phone call without my hands ever leaving the wheel or my eyes leaving the road. Until you fully experience Sync, you should not be making such criticisms that are indeed not factual.

    Andy
    A very satisfied Sync user.

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