Does integrating a 17-inch monitor into the dashboard of a car make the vehicle safer or just provide the driver one more giant distraction? Regardless of the answer, automobile manufacturers have been continuing to up the ante when it comes to delivering a “connected car” to consumers. The new Tesla Model S electric car takes the idea of in-car connectivity up one more notch by offering a 17-inch touch screen display with Internet access and four USB ports to attach devices.

Ricardo Reyes, a spokesman for Tesla, makes the argument that integrating the potential distraction directly into the vehicle is in fact safer than encouraging drivers to use their phones, stating, “People are already distracted by their phones in their car, but we can make it safer for them to do what they are already doing.” Reyes says the display is, “absolutely a selling point.”

Although the technology is unquestionably impressive, the verdict is out on whether it will have a positive impact on driver safety. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is currently conducting a study on the distractions caused by these new technologies and a report is expected later this year.

According to a recent article from The Wall Street Journal, “Customers say they love the electronics.” One customer even concedes, “It’s a little bit distracting, but it kind of allows me to do work while I am driving without having to look down at my phone. I can do the whole thing with voice activation.” And, as Michael Sprague, the marketing director for Kia Motors suggests, it’s this mentality that makes eliminating distracted driving so difficult.

Sprague states, “It isn’t possible to stop it. Consumers are going to continue to drive with phones and all we can do as a manufacturer is to provide what the consumers are asking for and make it as safe as possible.” It’s a worrying thought, but it might also be a harsh reality.

Currently, Ford already allows drivers to stream Twitter feeds, music, and conduct a variety of other activities through its Sync technology, and GM, Mercedes-Benz, and several other manufacturers are releasing similar technology by spring of this year. The connected car shows no signs of letting up.

Maybe Sprague is right, and all automobile manufacturers can do is make distracted driving as safe as possible. However, couldn’t you also argue that enabling distracted driving, even if it’s safer, is still promoting an unnecessarily risky behavior? No matter what your opinion is on this issue, expect to see more and more connected cars hitting the streets in the coming year.

Photo credit: Tesla Motors