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The Connected Car: Is New Technology Really Keeping You Safer?

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The New York Auto Show is one of several venues where the world's car makers show off the latest and greatest in automotive technology. While much of the buzz revolves around what is under the hood, there's a whole new world of technology evolving inside the dashboard too.

"Car companies today are really racing to kind of keep up with the expectations of the consumers," says Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of Edmunds.com. So as consumers rely more and more on things like smart phones and iPads, the world's leading automakers are looking for ways to capitalize on that trend and put that technology at drivers' fingertips.

Ford (F) was a pioneer almost a decade ago when they teamed up with Microsoft (MSFT) to offer the "Sync" system that allows drivers to, among other things, listen to music from their iPods and even control phone apps from the driver's seat.

Toyota's (TM) "Entune" system works in much the same way. One example: users can search for a restaurant, make reservations, and then get turn by turn navigation all while listening to their favorite Pandora (P) station; and all from the center console of their car. Combine all that with the ability to create new apps for these systems and the possibilities are endless.

Mercedes is taking this one step further by allowing passengers in the backseat to plug an Apple (AAPL) iPad directly into the car, replacing the on-board entertainment system. Anywl says this leveraging of other companies' technologies is a growing trend and instead of after market system improvements, "as you get a new device your car automatically upgrades."

While all these features may have techies salivating over the possibilities, safety continues to be an issue. With each new piece of connected technology at drivers' fingertips, comes more possibility of distraction.

"Certainly car companies should focus on streamlining the interface, enabling you to perform what you need to perform with a minimum of buttons being touched, maybe controls from the steering wheel," says Anwyl. "Certainly voice activation sounds very interesting."

Several automakers have already begun to make their systems safer. Ford and Toyota are just two of the companies already employing voice recognition capabilities. Anwyl points out however, that some safety functions that dumb down a system, by locking navigation for example, could be an even bigger distraction and render the system useless to a passenger who can safely operate it.

Safety is not limited to the dashboard however. New proactive safety technologies are a big deal at the New York Auto Show this year.

"In the past we've been focusing on things like air bags," says Anwyl. "These help you survive an accident and that's all good but it's far better if you can stop the accident happening in the first place and there's great examples of technologies that don't just warn you with beeps and flashing lights, but actually give you a very proactive feedback."

For example there are steering wheels that become harder to turn if a driver is moving toward a vehicle in their blind spot, or cars that actually slow down if you're backing into an object.

Are you in favor of more technology on your dashboard or would you rather just get from point A to point B without all the bells and whistles? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

[For more on the New York Auto Show please visit Yahoo! Autos for extensive coverage!]

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