I attended a very interesting presentation last week at the Connected Infotainment Conference in San Francisco, given by Joe Carra, from the USA National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA published its Phase 1 set of guidelines for driver distraction standards in February 2012, and has received comments from 83 separate entities. As part of the NHTSA process, all the comments will be duly considered before a final distraction guidelines notice/document is issued in the very near future. The notice will not be law, but it is expected that designers of Infotainment Systems will try and adhere to them, as they will represent best practice from a safety perspective – always paramount for car makers. Some of the fundamental principles included in the guidelines, ranging from obvious to less obvious are:
- The Driver should normally be looking forward
- The Driver should be able to keep at least one hand on the wheel while performing a secondary task
- The distraction associated with a secondary task should not exceed that of a baseline task (nominally manually tuning a car radio)
- Any task performed by the driver should be interruptible at any time
- The driver should control the pace of interaction
- Displays should be easy to see, and content easily discernible
User “Lock-Outs” proposed include : Automatically Scrolling Text, Static Images, Text Display Limit (30 characters?), Text Entry and Video. Later in 2013 Phase 2 Guidelines will be published that will cover after-market devices, and Phase 3 due in 2014 will cover speech-recognition/auditory input devices.
NHTSA has established a nominal scale for measuring distraction-risk. It is widely accepted that the most distracting tasks are those involving visual/manual interaction. Some data points on the scale are listed here. Listening/taking on a hands-free phone is rated below 1. Holding your cell phone and talking (illegal in many states and countries) is rated between 1 and 2. Reaching for a fixed object is rated between 3 and 4, and reaching for a moving object is a 9 (that falling cup of coffee!). Typing a text message on a cell phone while driving is rated at 23, and obviously regarded as highly dangerous and distracting for the driver. We often see drivers with heads-down at stop-signals on their mobile devices though.
In my opinion technology will gradually replace some of these distractions – once we have the right combination of Head-Up Displays (HUDs), steering column buttons, and advanced speech recognition, the dependence on center-console mounted Infotainment systems will be reduced. Advances in HUD technology allow multi-color information displays to be projected onto a polarized film on the windshield, while keeping the focal point of the display for the driver on the road ahead, to avoid any eye-strain effects from constantly changing focus near to far. At Mentor Graphics we are tracking closely the needs of designers with our Linux-based Automotive Technology Platform (ATP), to ensure the right building blocks are in place to address current and planned regulatory requirements. The fast changing requirements are a continuous challenge for car makers, trying to keep pace with an increasingly consumer-electronics oriented market.