GM's Wi-Fi Move Brings the Connected Car Closer

General Motors says this a move that will put "mobile" into automobile. Starting next year it plans to put 4G LTE technology into millions of its cars, trucks and SUVs around the world.

It is a move that GM had to make even as critics raise concerns that this will only increase the potential for distracted driving. Given the push around the U.S. and around the world to limit distracted driving, why is GM doing this? The answer is because it can and the public demands it.

Whether or not you think it's right, your car is becoming more connected.

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GM and AT&T Collaborate, Ford Gets Spotify

In the U.S. and Canada, GM will partner with AT&T to imbed 4G LTE in 2015 models that will roll into showrooms next year. The technology will allow mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, more infotainment connections and more advanced OnStar service options.

"Longer term, the higher bandwidth and responsiveness of 4G LTE, with speeds 10 times faster than 3G, will support a wide range of car-specific apps and functions, both those already in development and those we haven't imagined yet," said Steve Girsky, General Motors Vice Chairman.

Girsky announced the deal at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Not surprisingly, this move is big news in the telecom world where expanding into the auto business has long been a primary goal. For the mobile phone industry, app makers and content providers, the prospect of reaching millions of people sitting in cars is a huge market they are actively targeting. It's the reason Ford recently announced is actively courting mobile app makers. In fact, at the same convention in Spain, Ford announced its Sync System will soon have a Spotify App. The streaming music service has 20 million users worldwide and being part of the Ford Sync AppLink system is an important expansion.

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Too Much Distraction?

Despite a flurry of tragic stories in recent years about deadly accidents involving distracted driving, connectivity in the car keeps growing. The frightening statistics are also growing showing distracted driving is a growing problem on American roads.

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Getty Images

Consider the following:

  • In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver (up from 3,267 in 2010).
  • In 2011, 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver (down from 416,000 injured in 2010).
  • 18% of injury crashes in 2010 were reported as distraction-affected crashes.
  • 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.

The numbers are downright scary. That's why news of GM and Ford striking deals to expand the connectivity of drivers and passengers scares people. Let's be clear, while GM and Ford may be making big name deals, every automaker is looking for ways to give drivers the connectivity they want.

Will Washington Increase Regulations?

As automakers and the mobile phone industry work closer together, regulators in Washington are watching.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been a very vocal proponent of zero tolerance when it comes to drivers using cell phones and mobile apps that could cause accidents. His campaign and sobering public service announcements showing the dangers of teens texting and driving are a welcome fight in the battle to keep drivers focused on the road not their phones. Meanwhile automakers and the cell phone industry both say that keeping drivers connected does not have to mean drivers are distracted. They're promoting hands free use of cell phones and mobile apps.

All of that helps fight distracted driving, but like it or not, what's out on the road will soon be more connected than ever before.

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—By CNBC's Phil LeBeau; Follow him on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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