Safety Group Says There's 'Nothing Safe' About GM's New App That Lets Drivers Buy Stuff In The Car

Image via GM
Image via GM

General Motors announced its new Marketplace app, meant to allow drivers to order things by poking their infotainment screens on the road, Tuesday. It was only a few hours later when the National Safety Council was all over the folks at GM, reminding them that maybe shopping while driving isn’t a great idea.


GM said in the announcement that it plans to add Marketplace to “millions of existing 2017 and 2018” vehicles’ infotainment systems, so long as the systems are compatible with the app and the cars have wifi hotspots. It’s a big branding party, naturally, and the initial rollout of the app will let drivers order from and make reservations at Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wingstop, TGI Fridays, Shell, Exxon, Priceline, Parkopedia, Applebee’s, IHOP,, and, of course, GM. Drivers can get discounts on GM parts and services by using the app.

The whole “ordering while driving” thing didn’t go over well with the National Safety Council, a nonprofit organization that says it tries to achieve its mission by helping keep businesses, elected officials and government agencies from making decisions that would cause “preventable injuries.” The council is not thrilled about this Marketplace app. From Bloomberg:

National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman says the app will contribute to distracted driving, already a factor in a quarter of all vehicle crashes and hurt efforts to stem rising auto fatalities, which grew 5.6 percent to more than 37,000 in the U.S. last year.

“There’s nothing about this that’s safe,” Hersman said. “If this is why they want Wi-Fi in the car, we’re going to see fatality numbers go up even higher than they are now.”

GM spokesperson Vijay Iyer told Bloomberg the goal with the app is to be a safer alternative to using phones for in-car purchasing, since we as a society have become a slave to the brands and must feed our credit-card numbers into some random touchscreen at all times. The GM order process also has an interaction limit, according to Bloomberg, with the most being three to four steps.

Iyer told Bloomberg the app is designed “in accordance with voluntary driver-distraction guidelines agreed to by car companies,” but didn’t specify those guidelines. Jalopnik has reached out to Iyer for more details, and will update if we hear back.

In explaining the reasoning behind the app, GM said people spend an average of 46 minutes driving per day and that “the daily commute is the only time not accessible in a consumers’ day” for most retailers and brands. Gee! How dare we consumers use less than an hour of our day to escape the constant marketing. These companies need our full attention and interaction, all the time.

And it sounds like GM really wants the interaction to be going during the drive. From the announcement, emphasis ours:

Marketplace is designed to be used while driving. It leverages machine learning from real-time interaction data, such as location, time of day and a driver’s established digital relationship with third-party merchants, to offer highly personalized experiences.


Whether that means “while driving” from one place to another but during stops on that trip, or whether it actually means “while driving,” GM didn’t specify. The car in the promotional video for the Markeplace app seems to be stopped before the driver makes most of his interactions with the screen, but at that point, it seems easier to just do it on your phone.

The app does program in a credit or debit card so that drivers don’t have to dig around for one at a drive-thru or while on the phone, which is actually helpful:

Other than the card information, though, all of the features in the promotional video look like stuff drivers can do by other means while driving. Rolling up to the drive-thru and saying your name doesn’t seem much different than asking for a “something something coffee, please?” and booking restaurants or hotels can be done over a call.


As someone with a 2012 car that refuses to let her (or a passenger) sync a phone to its Bluetooth system while the car is in motion, this is all rather perplexing. But no matter how you feel about in-car brands and ordering, it’s probably best if we all drive far away from the Chevy Equinoxes of the world from now on.

Update, Dec. 11 at 2:35 p.m. GM responded to Jalopnik, saying the following about the guidelines its Marketplace app follows:

Marketplace was developed adhering to guidelines from the Auto Alliance and GM’s own guiding principles. Marketplace is designed to minimize manual interactions, helping drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Each Marketplace interaction is limited to a few simple steps, similar to finding and selecting a radio station.

Staff writer, Jalopnik


Brad Landers

Ah yes, a classic case of the idealist and the pragmatist.

Idealist: Nothing about this is safe.

Pragmatist: The goal with the app is to be a safer alternative to using phones for in-car purchasing.

The idealist’s principles are correct, but they are unrealistic. The pragmatist presents a solution that may be an improvement, but is still not ideal. Not to mention, the pragmatist in this case isn’t exactly independent and objective (they stand to benefit).

So who is right?

I tend to side with the pragmatist. Everyone has a smartphone these days, and if they’re on in their car and ready to order Starbucks, they’re just going to pick up their phone and do it. “Let’s make it illegal,” you say? Sure. We’ll add that to the long list of illegal shit people do every day, like speeding and texting while driving.

Or we could try to cling just a little less tightly to our ideas, and accept that any improvement is better than the status quo. We should also remember that if we’re flexible in our ideas, we open ourselves to iterative improvement.