Consumer Reports

Is Ford’s New High-Tech Control Dangerous?

“Ford has a better idea” was the company’s slogan in the 1960s. I’m wondering if its current “better idea” is dangerous. I’m referring to a new driver interface in the Ford Edge (also available in the Lincoln).

Ford dashA touch-screen interface does away with most knobs and buttons. According to Consumer Reports (Feb. 2011):

The driver interface systems use an 8-inch video touch screen in the center of the dashboard, with a panel of touch-sensitive buttons under it. It also includes two 4.2-inch dashboard displays flanking the speedometer that can be configured to show different gauges and perform some of the same functions as the center screen.

If that sounds confusing, it gets worse: The system also recognizes and responds to voice commands. It all adds up to three or four ways to make what should be simple adjustments. None of the options works as well or is as easy to use as old-fashioned knobs and switches, and they can be more time-consuming and distracting to operate.

The center screen’s cluttered pages, tiny buttons, and small fonts make choosing the right spot to touch difficult. The screen can be slow to respond.

Touch-sensitive buttons are designed to respond to a finger tap or swipe across their surface. They look high-tech but tend either to make bigger adjustments than you want or not respond at all – especially if you are wearing gloves. Their small size makes them difficult to find at a glance.

How is use of this interface less distracting than talking or texting on a cell phone? In places where use of cell phones while driving is outlawed, could this car be outlawed? Bring back the knobs and buttons.

Consumer Reports and Bisphenol A

CannedFood-150x145The December issue of Consumer Reports (page 54) contains an article on Bisphenol A (BPA) which is used in plastic bottles and food-can liners. CR tests found BPA in almost all canned food tested. The question is how much, if any, has adverse health effects.

The FDA currently puts the daily upper safe limit of exposure to BPA at 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. Consumer Reports says that standard is based on experiments done in the 1980s and that more recent tests show abnormalities in animals at much lower exposures.

Consumer Reports recommends that manufacturers and government “should act to eliminate the use of BPA in all material that come into contact with food.” Consumer Reports fails to cite the new studies referred to.

The Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University takes Consumer Reports to task:

“Consumer Reports made so many factual errors in presenting its data on BPA in canned goods that no-one could have possibly read the actual research. A call for a ban on the chemical puts the public at risk from deadly food borne pathogens.”

“Consumer Reports have come out with a purported investigation into the chemical Bisphenol A that shows scant familiarity with any of the risk assessments of the chemical. Given that BPA is used to prevent food spoilage in cans, and given that food spoilage can lead to bacterial infection putting people at risk from botulism, and given that there is no safe and effective alternative as yet for BPA, these errors and exaggerations and omissions are not trivial. Consumer Reports seems to be oblivious to the extensive research on BPA carried out by the European Union, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others, all of which refutes the magazine’s claims about the chemical. ”

The STATS article goes on to list specific reasons why they think CR did a bad job. The STATS article also provides links to recent research from Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and the U.S. which conclude that BPA does not pose a hazard.

Read the STATS article and make up your own mind.

Note: I am a subscriber to Consumer Reports