The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released voluntary guidelines for the auto industry, to limit the distracted driving risks from built-in navigation, communications and entertainment systems. While the guidelines are voluntary, they are expected to be widely implement.
I suspect that the guidelines will strongly influence GPS and smartphone manufacturers as well (and can guidelines for them be far behind?). Meanwhile, automakers are suggesting that the guidelines may backfire, pushing motorists to use their smartphones more than in-car systems.
Are voice interfaces better?
USA Today reports that “the new guidelines encourage more use of voice commands,” but a more careful read of the 281 page Phase I distraction guidelines for automakers (PDF), makes it clear that the Feds understand that even voice-activated in-car systems carry risks. Still, the document clearly urges manufacturers to minimize the reliance upon “visual-manual” tasks:
“The new study strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver’s focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times,” said David L. Strickland, NHTSA Administrator. “The new guidelines and our ongoing work with our state partners across the country will help us put an end to the dangerous practice of distracted driving by limiting the amount of time drivers take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and their attention away from the task of driving.”
Among the concerns cited about voice interfaces were difficulties understanding accents and the possibility of overwhelming drivers with a “constant and continuous audio stream of updated information while driving.” Consumers Union urged NHTSA to…
…issue its Guidelines for voice operated controls as quickly as possible, and to address the shortcomings of this particular technology, so that the distractions do not simply shift from visual-manual to audio feeds.
The NHTSA also released a new study on hand-held versus hands-free cell phone use (PDF).
Stay safe out there!