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Published:July 31st, 2011 09:59 EST
Newest Technology in Car Safety: Turn It On From Afar

Newest Technology in Car Safety: Turn It On From Afar

By Donna Cavanagh

Remember when airbags were the newest technology in car safety? Now, they are boring compared to the safety options offered by some car manufacturers. And how do dealers sell these options?  Fear. Yes, fear has turned out to be the best sales tool except for s(e)x.

What happens if you get in an accident? Or what happens if you have a flat tire? Or what happens if some maniac with a hook for an arm is in your backseat waiting to pounce?  Sorry, I couldn`t resist the last one; it is the most famous of urban legends. But don`t worry about any of these situations if you have OnStar or a similar remote safety system in your car.  Well, I`m not sure about the maniac.  To be fair, I`m not sure if there is anything OnStar can do about that.  I think you are on your own against the guy with the hook.  

If you forget about the maniac, OnStar is like your guardian angel.  It`s sort of like  Kitt from Knight Rider except with a different voice, but unlike Kitt, OnStar can`t make your car fly over the guy in front of you who can`t accelerate at the light because he is too busy talking on the phone or playing air guitar or picking his nose.   OnStar can perform a multitude of functions from calling ambulances to unlocking your car doors, and now if you have seen the commercials, it allows you to start your car by using your cell phone. 

This feature appears to be a great convenience to drivers and also a lot of fun because it does have the potential to be a great prank. Just think how you can drive your spouse crazy by turning on and off his car while he is trying to drive to work.  Yes, what a blast to have his car just shut off while he is cruising at 75 MPH. Yes, no danger there. 

To be honest, I don`t know if OnStar or any of the similar remote systems are capable of playing such a prank, but my imagination was wandering.  It`s true these features have merit, but there is a hacking factor that can rain on your remote system parade. A computer security research company, iSec Partners, has produced a video showing how they can hack into these remote safety systems and unlock car doors and turn engines on and off  by using a laptop. 

The technique for hacking into a car`s remote security system has been dubbed "War Texting" by iSec which is a play on the term "War Driving"which involved hackers driving around cities looking for data on wireless networks. Okay, I must pause here and say, "f only these criminals could use their intelligence for good."  I know this is a mom thing to say, but come on, it really applies here. 

War texting is not easy. Hackers have to identify cars using the mobile security apps. When they do, they have to figure out a way to connect with them and then circumvent the security codes and replace them with their own. Again, this is not technically accurate, but it`s a layman`s understanding of this hacking. 

Now, that we have the criminal activity description done, I need express my individual concerns.  When I first saw this remote control system advertised, it made an impact on me. I thought how great it would be to have someone there if there was an accident or incident on the road. In fact, the commercials played the real conversations between the OnStar people and drivers.  Then, I saw the ads for the start-your-car-from-your-cell-phone feature and that made me wish I had this as well because it meant I didn`t have to go to my car to start the engine anymore.

As I pondered this system, I thought, How necessary is this remote control cell phone app? Is it a must have option or is it just fluff in a car much like my 16 cup holders?  I know, it`s nice to have a place to put drinks but I have never needed 16 holders - ever. 

Anyway, I already have that remote control key thingy that unlocks my car from a pretty good distance. Do I need to start my car before I get to it?  How much effort is required to turn on an ignition?  If it`s too strenuous to turn the key, I probably shouldn`t be driving.  I will concede that on cold and rainy mornings, it would be nice to be able to start my car and get it comfy and toasty before venturing outside, but that is the only instance I can see this being a valuable feature. 

I also have to wonder how this remote start-your-engine- feature promotes safety. I would think having my car empty, unlocked and running in a mall parking lot is an invitation to every car thief looking to score a set of wheels.  If I use this remote start app, I should just get a magnet sign for my car that reads, "Here, I started it for you. Just take it."

And what about pocket dialing?  What if you accidentally press that app on your way into work in the morning and your car runs all day, and you come out to an empty gas tank. That`s not good either. 

I guess if I had to pick a fantasy feature for my car, it would be jet engines and wings that would allow me to fly where I have to go or better yet, I think we should invest in Star Trek technology and beam ourselves everywhere.  Then, we wouldn`t have to worry about accidents, flat tires or stalkers with hook arms waiting in our backseats.  Yes, life would be peachy.