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Now you can shop, and order up an Egg McMuffin, while you drive

General Motors

Already, people can use their cell phones through their cars' built-in infotainment systems. They can get directions, find gas stations and, for better or for worse, they can shop. All from the comfort of a driver's seat.

General Motors announced recently that McDonald's is now a part of the Marketplace app built into many of its cars' touch screens. About 2 million General Motors vehicles from the 2017 and 2018 model years currently have the feature, which lets drivers place food orders, reserve tables and perform other shopping functions through the car.

Photo by _skynet via Flickr Creative Commons

GM's partnership with Dunkin Donuts, for example, links drivers' Dunkin Donuts account with the Marketplace app in their cars, so they can place an order and pay for it with a tap on the touchscreen. They can then pick up the order at the drive through, or inside the store, having been navigated there -- also through the Marketplace app. 

"As we went out and talked to folks, the things we heard back about what they could get in a connected car that would make a connected car a better car or a better experience -- value, productivity and safety were all on people's minds," said Rick Ruskin, senior manager for General Motors' Marketplace app.

By value, Ruskin means the deals GM's partner companies offer through the app.

Ford Motor Co.

With the average American spending 46 minutes commuting, drivers want to be able to complete things in their cars while they're behind the wheel -- a potentially dangerous mix.

Marketplace, Ruskin said, "is to bring you some of the same productivity that you'd get if you were standing still with your mobile app, but we're doing it in a way that's no more complex than changing a radio station."

Still, safety researchers have concerns.

"It's really important to understand the demands these are incurring on drivers because that has implications on how drivers are able to respond and react to critical road situations," said Dr. William Horrey, with the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "If you have systems imposing high demand, they're less likely or less capable of responding appropriately when the traffic situation dictates."

Last year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with the University of Utah on a study that looked into 30 different infotainment systems in cars to see what kind of demands they were placing on drivers in terms of distraction. None of them had a low level of distraction. Most of them were high, or very high,  in terms of what they demand from a driver's attention.

AAA found that voice commands were slightly less demanding on the driver than touch controls and that the best placement for infotainment controls is higher up in the dashboard, instead of lower, where they take a driver's eyes further away from the road.

But like it or not, features such as Marketplace are likely to become more common in the future, especially as cars become more automated. Toyota, Lexus and Ford are among the car companies incorporating the digital assistant Amazon Alexa into their vehicles.

"The one thing autonomous vehicles will really get us that we can't get now is time back," said Kelley Blue Book executive analyst, Akshay Anand. "I think auto makers are starting to think about, hey, how can we get people time back in their day so we can think about or worry about other things, and this is just one small step toward that."