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NHTSA’s distracted driving draft gets aftermarket industry criticism

Friday, April 14, 2017 - 07:00
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There has been a torrent of criticism directed at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) draft of distracted driving guidelines for the aftermarket.

NHTSA published its second (Phase 2) of three anticipated distracted driving guidelines at the end of November 2016. The final guidelines for OEMs (Phase 1) was published a few years ago.

NHTSA held a public meeting with groups in 2014 to get input into the portable aftermarket device (PAD) guidelines, but somehow published a draft that nearly every industry segment opposes for one reason or another.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), says, "The prescriptive technology recommendations set forth in the proposed guidelines are simply unworkable in today’s mobile ecosystem."

The Phase 2 draft attempts to build on Phase 1, which established recommended  acceptance criteria for driver glance behavior where single average glances away from the forward roadway are two seconds or less and where the sum of the durations of all individual glances away from the forward roadway are 12 seconds or less while performing a testable task, such as selecting a song from a satellite radio station.

The proposed Phase 2 guidelines present two concurrent approaches for mitigating distraction associated with the use of portable and aftermarket devices by drivers. The first describes certain tasks that would be "locked out" where the portable and OE in-vehicle systems are designed so they can be easily paired to each other and operated through the OE in-vehicle interface. This is the "Pairing" option."

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Those locked out tasks include: displaying video not related to driving; displaying certain graphical or photographic images; displaying automatically scrolling text; manual text entry for the purpose of text-based messaging, other communication, or internet browsing; and displaying text for reading from books, periodical publications, Web page content, social media content, text-based advertising and marketing, or text-based messages.

The second option is based on what is called the "Driver Mode," which would be a simplified interface when the device is being used unpaired while driving, either because pairing is unavailable or the driver decides not to pair. The agency's preference is for the Driver's Mode to be automatically activated when: (1) the device is not paired with the in-vehicle system, and (2) the device, by itself, or in conjunction with the vehicle in which it is being used, distinguishes that it is being used by a driver who is driving.

It is not only the CTA whose comments have been scathing. "The consistent implementation of an unpaired Driver Mode may be difficult given the wide variety of approaches," says Steven H. Bayless, vice president, Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

The suggestion – again, these would be guidelines, not law – that some tasks be "locked out" when an aftermarket device is in Driver Mode opens up a host of potential pitfalls, according to some aftermarket equipment manufacturers.

Caleb Herbst, director, Consumer Automotive Engineering, Garmin International, says video displays would be locked out, although there is an exception in the draft guidelines for maps. However, this exception expressly excludes “the display of informational detail not critical to navigation, such as photorealistic images, satellite images, or three-dimensional images.”

"To the extent this text may be interpreted as suggesting that the use of such images is never critical to navigation, we disagree," Herbst says. "Photorealistic, satellite and three-dimensional images provide important situational and contextual awareness to drivers during the navigation function, allowing them to identify landmarks and other real-world features to assist in navigation. Accordingly, we believe that any final guidelines adopted by NHTSA should expressly allow the use of such imagery as part of the navigation function. A blanket lockout of all such imagery is inappropriate."

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