Ford Takes on OnStar With 911 Assist

Midcoast — Ford Takes on OnStar With 911 Assist
By Keith Barry May 26, 2009

Ford has got GM’s OnStar service in their sights after introducing a software upgrade to the Ford-Microsoft Sync system that automatically calls 911 in the event of a crash.

Dubbed 911 Assist, the program was first announced in 2008 but is now appearing on brand new Ford vehicles equipped with Sync. The program uses a Bluetooth-enabled phone to automatically dial 911 after an airbag deployment or fuel shutoff. Should the driver be unable to communicate, 911 Assist automatically plays a recorded message that tells the emergency operator a crash has occured.

While it sounds like an efficient system, it’s missing a few key ingredients of OnStar such as GPS location and advanced crash recognition. We also doubt the commercials could be as dramatic as OnStar’s, whose crash-scene replays are the stuff of nightmares.

Ford is positioning 911 Assist as a direct competitor to OnStar and similar systems. It’s not a bad option for those who would rather a Lincoln than a Cadillac, don’t want to pay the $18.95 monthly fee for OnStar service, or are afraid of potential privacy intrusions.

“Unlike other crash notification services, 911 Assist does not require the customer to sign up and pay for a costly monthly service subscription,” reads one Ford press release. In addition, Ford touts Sync’s direct connection with 911 and “not a third party call center, as with other competitive systems.”

While it sounds appealing, 911 Assist has some flaws compared to its closest competition, the most glaring of which is the lack of GPS technology. If your phone doesn’t have built-in GPS, emergency responders will have to rely on the not-always-accurate strategy of cell phone signal triangulation to locate your Mercury Milan and the tree it’s wrapped around. With 911 Assist, you’re also out of luck if the airbags don’t go off or if the fuel shutoff doesn’t work. OnStar’s Advanced Automatic Crash Response, for example, can tell when any crash has occured.

While all 2010 Ford vehicles will offer Sync as an option, not all existing Sync-equipped Fords have 911 Assist. Ford says that owners of any 2008 or early-2009 vehicle without the 911 Assist should be eligible for an upgrade, though installation fees may apply.

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