COMMENT: Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road

BY MARTIN KAHL. As ever with penalty increases, news that UK drivers caught texting could soon be paying increased fines of £90 (US$137) has received mixed responses. In a survey a year ago by the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists, 51% disagreed with the proposal, 28% strongly, while 35% agreed with the proposal.

As ever with penalty increases, news that UK drivers caught texting could soon be paying increased fines of £90 (US$137) has received mixed responses. In a survey a year ago by the UK’s Institute of Advanced Motorists, 51% disagreed with the proposal, 28% strongly, while 35% agreed with the proposal.

The IAM’s director of policy, Neil Greig, says an increase in fixed penalty levels is needed as a deterrent, “But the fear of getting caught is the key to changing driver behaviour and high profile policing must be a top priority.”

In the US, NHTSA reported recently that 74% of the people it surveyed were in favour of completely banning drivers from using hand-held mobile phones, and 91% were in favour of a ban on texting while driving. In April, the state of California began moves to ban drivers using mobile phone GPS, adding to the debate about the use of brought-in versus built-in devices.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland has indicated that distraction guidelines could be included in the New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), and NHTSA recently published final first phase voluntary guidelines aimed at reducing driver distraction

Distracted driving has long been a key issue at the US Department of Transportation, where the outgoing Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, became renowned for keeping the issue at the top of his agenda. It will be interesting to see the importance that LaHood’s successor, Anthony Foxx, attributes to the issue. NHTSA, meanwhile, will certainly be keeping distraction high on its agenda. According to recently released data from the Administration, 10% of fatal crashes in the US in 2011 were reported as distraction-related. 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers, while an estimated additional 387,000 were injured in motor vehicle incidents involving driver distraction. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland has indicated that distraction guidelines could be included in the New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP), and NHTSA recently published final first phase voluntary guidelines aimed at reducing driver distraction.

Once the permissible content level has been agreed, the question is how to allow access to that content. Voice and gesture control development is advancing, but to date neither is sufficiently accurate nor ready to act as the main means of control. Before either makes it to the mainstream, existing HMI and content delivery must be simplified. HMI familiarity helps limit distraction, and the best way to do this is to replicate the screen of a brought-in device on an embedded screen.

Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road is the mantra at OEMs and suppliers alike, as they race to bring to market the technology required to deliver a satisfactory and safe connected vehicle experience

Technology is not the only factor in distracted driving-related collisions. Erie has Insurance analysed the incident reports of the more than 65,000 people killed in car crashes in the US in 2010 and 2011: of the distracted driver-related deaths, daydreaming was the cause in 62% of the cases; mobile phone use ranked second, at ‘just’ 12%.

Another major source of distraction, not related to technology, is fatigue. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute recently published a report which found that, of the crash data investigated, significantly more crashes or near crashes due to fatigue occurred during the day than at night. In some cases, said a VTT spokesman, “This was not just yawning. The drivers were asleep.”

Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road is the mantra at OEMs and suppliers alike, as they race to bring to market the technology required to deliver a satisfactory and safe connected vehicle experience. “Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel,” said Erie Insurance’s Doug Smith. Harman recently took the ‘eyes on the road’ concept to a whole new level, acquiring Israel’s ADAS supplier, iOnRoad, whose technology it will embed into its scalable and premium heads-up displays.

Clearly, the goal is to find the sweet spot somewhere in the middle, where drivers are kept entertained and alert, but their eyes stay on the road, and their hands on the wheel.


Martin Kahl is Editor, Automotive World.

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