Connected cars could make driving safer and more efficient, but they also raise concerns about privacy (illustration: Jason Schneider)

Safety, Privacy and Connected Cars

By Ali Bryan

From Fitbits to iPhones, smart technology has enabled consumers to enjoy many conveniences. We can track planes, count calories and even deposit cheques at the touch of a button. The options are endless in scope and application. It’s even more intriguing when you consider how smart technology and so-called “connected cars” are revolutionizing the automotive industry.

“Vehicles are transforming into smartphones on wheels,” says Jeff Walker, vice president of public affairs at CAA. The implications are significant and complex, impacting maintenance, safety, communication, entertainment and privacy.

Connected cars are not a new concept. Many brands already operate with some level of connectivity. In-dash technology and apps, such as Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, sync a driver’s smartphone with the vehicle’s infotainment system.

Then there are actual driving features controlled by digital systems, including lane-centering, automatic parking, diagnostic reporting, maintenance scheduling and mapping. Imagine a scenario in which your vehicle tells you it needs new brake pads and schedules the maintenance directly from the dash. Or after analyzing your blood sugar, your car suggests you eat a Timbit.

But advancing technology isn’t only about entertainment and convenience—safety is paramount. Human error continues to be the leading cause of collisions and injuries, attributable to an estimated 90 percent of crashes. Self-driving cars could largely eliminate this issue.

Autonomous vehicles can come equipped with night-vision capability, proximity alert and collision prevention systems. Using advanced sensor technologies, these systems work both independently and collaboratively to prevent or reduce the likelihood of an accident. For example, the 2017 Hyundai Elantra will feature autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot detection and a lane departure warning system. And the 2017 Ford Fusion will offer similar driver-assist technologies, in addition to an upgraded version of SYNC, its onboard voice-activated system, to help reduce distracted driving.

Of course, there are potential hazards too. Drivers should never assume that current connected-car models, no matter how high-tech, can correct bad driving habits. You are still very much in the driver’s seat and human driving skills remain paramount.

“Auto manufacturers building more connectivity into cars can be both a blessing and a curse,” says Heather Mack, director of government relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Emerging technologies could eventually lead to “zero fatality” roads, but she notes that in-car infotainment systems may still cause distraction.

“A hands-free system does not equal a risk-free system.” Current Government of Alberta research indicates that driver distractions contribute to 20 to 30 percent of all collisions.

Privacy is another issue. The concern lies not in the transition to self-driving cars, but in its ethical implementation. “Consumers need to stay in control of their own data,” Walker says. According to The Connected Car: Who is in the Driver Seat?, a 2015 research project funded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “the data generated by telematics and vehicle infotainment systems is highly revealing of personal lifestyles, habits and preferences.”

Connected vehicles analyze your driving habits, but they may also be spying on you. “The breadth of personal data that can be culled from connected cars is enormous,” says the report. Your car may discover that you have an affinity for Taylor Swift, but it might also learn where you go and whom you bring along for the ride. In a few years, your car just might order that large double-double for you.

Regardless of the implications, AMA is here for drivers. “We’ll be advocating for consumers’ in this world of new technologies,” Walker says. All the players, from consumers to manufacturers to insurers, must collectively promote technology that will keep roads safe while also giving drivers full control over their personal information. Clear menus and opt-in features will ensure the driver is still behind the wheel of his personal data—even if his car is doing the driving.


Through advances in vehicle telematics, cars now gather a vast amount of data. Automakers, insurers and organizations like AMA are exploring the ways that information could be used to optimize car maintenance, driving habits and more.

Computers on many new cars can already guide you into a tight parking spot; soon they might check the wear on brake pads, alert you to potential flat tires or direct you to a gas station with the lowest price.

In the future, data related to usage may also help determine your insurance rate. Some Quebec and Ontario companies already monitor factors such as speed, braking and frequency of use. Usage-Based Insurance models are being explored in Alberta too.

AMA is watching these advancements, and looks forward to helping members maximize the value of their vehicles’ data. Visit for more information.