World Environment Day 2016 | Subaru and Volvo enjoy reputations as leaders in terms of the environment and safety. 1 2
3 So it was painful to learn that both automakers now offer "honk from your phone" capability with their smart phone apps.
Subaru and Volvo took a while to commit to remote honking. Those unfamiliar with the technology can read about earlier adoption here, or watch Cruze or Buick ads showing people honking their horns from miles away even though they will not be able to hear the sound (read the comments for the Cruze App ad). 4
I've argued exhaustively about health and quality of life benefits of eliminating horn sounds from remote vehicle functions, so I'll set sound aside and focus on safety. Toyota brands use silent GIS mapping for "car locating" technology, but Toyota does not have proprietary rights to silent technology. Any technology that locks, unlocks, or starts a car remotely can do so without honking, and every brand is able to use silent technology. GM has proven itself capable of creating smart, silent "remote locking" technology.
No one was hurt during the 2014 Tesla hack 7 or a 2015 Jeep hack. 8 But common sense and anecdotal evidence suggest potential risk involved with remote horn activation, which involves clear misuse of a safety signal. I've heard from people who live in apartment complexes where young children delight in activating their parents' cars horns from indoors. I watched a video taken by a friend asking his neighbor to keep the key fob away from her young daughter for this reason. Several ads have shown people using a remote horn as a joke 9 and it would not require a hack to jokingly honk a horn remotely when a sibling or friend is driving a car.
Do Volvo and Subaru product designers know that one can accomplish the same goal using silent technology as Toyota does, the same technology that GM uses in the Sandman ad? How does one justify activating a safety feature - a car horn - for something other than an emergency, especially when one cannot even see the car or hear the horn as it sounds? What is the benefit?
Are Subaru product designers aware that the National Park Service would rather that people not honk horns in national parks, even in parking lots? The National Park Service's effort to protect the natural soundscape in national parks includes a specific request to "disable sounds on electronic door locks."
If auto brands that pride themselves on safety want to throw in their lot with automakers who don't question safety until people crash and they are called before a committee, that is a choice. But if you want to continue to enjoy reputations of shining virtuosity, you need to be sure that remotely honking a horn will not result in any possible safety risk. I would be happy to show you a diagram illustrating how a family member crashed into a stone wall in response to a remote honk while pulling into a driveway. You can contact me at any time.
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