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Distraction vs. Convenience: We Can’t Afford a War

If I change my radio station, am I more likely to get into an accident? Depends on who you ask.



y favorite movie of all time is Ro- mancing the Stone with Michael Douglas. It’s always appealed to me because of its balance of adventure,

discovery, romance and locale. But really, I call it my all-time favorite because it’s the one we use on those website security questions and I don’t want to change it to something else and get mixed up. But today, my REAL favorite movie is I, Robot with Will Smith. What I like most are the driving scenes, where all cars are automated and true driving is only an option, or in Del Spooner’s case, a necessity when hundreds of bloodthirsty autom- atons are jumping out of trucks to get you. That would be cool, if driving was an option. Of course, the difference is that this future “driving” is more akin to rail passage in that you don’t need to pay attention to navigating the course. Basically, cars would become mobile living rooms or offices in which everything you could do at home can continue on the road to anywhere. So why are we trying to achieve the same

creature comforts without the benefit of a car that drives itself?

Te commonalities of design and integration builds and practices need to be compiled and used as a primer for everyone to follow.

Because we can. And because consumers want it. With everybody needing or wanting to be in touch all the time, the drive can’t be a communica- tions wasteland. So as a worldwide industry, both on the carmaker and aftermarket sides, we try to balance driver safety and the dangers of distrac- tion against the desire for seamless information, entertainment and connectivity. The problem is, that balance is different from one OEM to another, from the OEMs to the aftermarket, and from the whole automotive industry to the lawmakers charged with protecting the public. Every one entity has its own idea of what distracts a driver and how to minimize that distraction. Just like the Internet, we’re in a space where there is very little in the way of standards or common guidelines, and we cannot have real progress until we can define them. I believe that our solution is comprised of

achieving four key objectives: defining driver dis- traction, determining the best tools and practices to combat it, developing intra-industry standard- ization and letting lawmakers in early.

58 Mobile Electronics December 2013

1. We need to be realistic about what distrac- tion is. In the old days, people worried about how changing the radio station during driving could result in an accident. Today, it’s a non-issue, thanks partly to improved ergonomics and partly due to the issue being eclipsed with more distracting products or practices, like texting on cell phones. The fact is, anything that doesn’t directly relate to the act of driving a vehicle is a distraction at a cer- tain level. So we need to come up with and agree upon a series of actions that are the least distract- ing and make these the basis for any products and services created for the vehicle. 2. The tools against distraction will need to work together. No single solution is going to cut it. Using voice recognition while driving doesn’t work in a noisy environment, just like touch screens don’t work for intricate tasks like messaging. We can’t just use tech for tech’s sake. The reason irons still work the same from the 1920s till today is because there’s no reason to change them. The same applies with certain aspects of driver control: Buttons and big numbers are still the best options for a lot of features. 3. We need to all adhere to the same standard.

Carmakers develop products with an emphasis on integrating with existing in-vehicle systems, as well as durability, ergonomic operation and ease of installation, updating or replacement. What they don’t do is design for a universal standard that other product developers—OEMs and after- market—can comply with. The commonalities of design and integration builds and practices need to be compiled and used as a primer for everyone to follow. Plus, we’ll need it for the next point. 4. Lawmakers need to be involved, too. Because this is a discovery process, innovation is taking the lead while municipalities are reacting. The problem is, with no real universal standards in place, laws are being passed that have less to do with understanding the technology and more to do with city or state-level knee-jerk reactions. We are now at a maturity point where we should be able to present the technologies to municipalities and describe how they add benefit while continuing to provide a safe driving experience. In short, get their buy-in before we go down the production road and then have our products outlawed, limited or revised. Our myriad roads to innovation and driver con- venience need to converge. Standards, restrictions, recommended practices and technology all need to be on the same page. There’s still room for compe- tition in the mix, but there’s no room or tolerance for putting technology before driver safety. 

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