Automakers Offer Texting Using Voice Commands

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CruzeIn a Super Bowl ad for the Chevrolet Cruze, a young man uses voice commands to check Facebook and grins when his OnStar communication system reads his date’s message: “Best first date ever.”

It’s heartwarming to some, downright scary to others, who worry that in-car technology is too distracting. But mostly, it’s a work in progress. General Motors Co. is still testing the OnStar Facebook system, and it may never become a standard feature. No other manufacturers are offering a way to check Facebook with voice commands, either.

Last fall, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood blasted the OnStar Facebook system, saying even if drivers’ hands are on the wheel and their eyes are on the road, they can still be distracted. Automakers argue that drivers are going to text and make calls anyway, so they’re designing systems that let them do that without using their hands.

There are a growing number of systems that let drivers get text or e-mail messages through voice commands or bypass incoming texts and calls so drivers aren’t distracted. Here’s a rundown on what’s available and how much it costs:

— OnStar. Is GM’s in-car communication system that uses GPS, cell phone and other equipment to help drivers call emergency assistance, unlock doors, and check e-mail without using hands. People with a current OnStar subscription can also sign up to send and receive text messages and Facebook updates using voice commands.

It’s free to sign up, although an OnStar subscription starts at $18.95 per month. OnStar is available on all GM vehicles. This spring, drivers of other kinds of cars will be able to get OnStar by installing a special, $299 rear-view mirror and paying the subscription fee.

— Sync. Ford Motor Co.’s Sync system will read incoming text messages aloud. Drivers can text back one of 15 generic responses — “Can’t talk right now,” “Call you later,” or even “I love you” — using the controls on their steering wheel. Sync is an option on most Ford vehicles, but the cost varies. It costs $395 to add Sync to a $23,000 Fusion SE, for example. It’s part of a $1,850 options package on the $31,000 Explorer XLT.

— Hyundai Blue Link. The new 2012 Veloster three-door coupe and the 2012 Sonata sedan will both have Hyundai Motor Co.’s new Blue Link feature when they come out later this year. Blue Link is similar to OnStar, and lets drivers send and receive texts using voice commands. It also sends the vehicle’s location to selected friends using Facebook and other social networking sites. Hyundai says Blue Link will be available on most of its vehicles by the 2013 model year. Pricing won’t be released until later this spring.

— Voice on the Go. A service that lets you send and listen to e-mails, texts, Facebook and Twitter updates. To use it, you download software into your phone and, when you’re on the road, call in to a local Voice on the Go number and use voice commands. The service costs $5.99 per month.

— Key2SafeDriving. This is a service that blocks incoming e-mails and texts to prevent distraction. For $99.95, and $9.95 per month after that, you get a device that plugs into your car and directs incoming calls to voice mail. It also sends an automatic text to any incoming text messages that you are driving and can’t respond.

When the car is turned off, you have access to your messages again. The phone can still be used in hands-free mode, and it can still dial 911. And a caveat, for teens: The device notifies your parents if it’s been tampered with.

Source: The Associated Press.