Is Your Car Virus-Free?

Do you remember the days when cars ran properly without the help of a computer? Or when you took your car to a mechanic and there was no need to plug it in to diagnose the problem? In fact, it seems these days the problem is usually the computer. Well, maybe not, but it certainly seems that way. Computers have been a part of driving for some time now, from all-wheel-drive systems to the airbags and active restraint seatbelts that help save our lives. But it’s only recently that these computers had any kind of vulnerability.

Today, automakers, on the coattails of Mercedes, use computers to do everything from navigation to stopping the car. Many new cars, like the Lincoln MKZ and Buick LaCrosse have hard drives onto which you can upload the MP3’s that you legally downloaded from the Internet. While these advances and the connectivity they offer are brilliant in their own right, a concern is looming in the automotive industry. What if all of these computers that we trust to keep us safe and to keep our cars running smoothly were to suddenly get the sniffles?

As writer James Shock said in a Feb. 23 article, “How long will it take someone to figure out a way to infect the software that runs your car via its wireless Internet access in order to accelerate your cars speed when you are trying to apply the brakes?” Terrifying, isn’t it? But worry not, there is a solution.

Ready? Here it comes: don’t put computers in cars. How will you ever listen to your MP3’s you ask? Or hook up your Bluetooth devices? Or watch a DVD? Or get directions on Google? Very simple, do it when you’re not driving. It seems that we drive so often that we forget the enormity of the consequences involved with the activity. But there is something just as fundamental that is annoying about the car computer crisis.

Driving is an experience. It was born as something visceral and mechanical. We created these vehicles to get us from here to there, but they brought us so much exhilaration that the journey became secondary. The American road trip is not about where you go, but the process of getting there. Up until a few years ago most German cars didn’t even have cup holders. Why? Because their belief is that when you’re driving there is no reason to be doing anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the technology in today’s automobiles that have even saved me in the past, but the automobile should remain as such. It is not a laptop on wheels, it is an icon of freedom, and the only computers within should be limited to improving the feeling and safety of driving.

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