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“A Car is Not a Mobile Device,” Warns NHTSA Chief

Top U.S. safety regulator urges caution at annual telematics conference.

by on Jun.09, 2011

David L. Strickland was sworn in January 4, 2010. Prior to his appointment, he served for eight years on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. As the Senior Counsel for the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, he was the lead staff person for the oversight of NHTSA, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He also served as the lead Senate staff person in the formulation of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) reforms and standards included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. He held a staff leadership role in the 2005 reauthorization of NHTSA in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act -- a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

NHTSA chief David Strickland insists drivers don't need to be "connected" at all times.

The technology is now available to offer pretty much any high-tech service a motorist might want, from in-car Internet access to live video on the go, but the nation’s top safety regulator threw some cold water in the face of those who’d like to capitalize on these lucrative technologies at the potential risk of those on the road.

“I’m just putting everyone on notice,” proclaimed David Strickland, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  “A car is not a mobile device,” he said, without irony, during an appearance at the Telematics Detroit 2011 conference.  “I’m not in the business of helping people Tweet better.  I’m not in the business of helping people post on Facebook better.”

The high-tech and automotive industries have found common ground in recent years.  Automakers, as well as aftermarket vendors, are offering an array of new features that can be stuffed into the passenger compartment.  There’s onboard mapping, of course, as well as real-time traffic and weather.  Motorists can find the cheapest local gas station, listen to Internet radio and have their text messages and e-mail read out in a synthesized voice.

All manner of new apps and systems are being unveiled at the telematics conference.  And for good reason.  The rise of the smartphone has clearly underscored the public’s appetite for technology they previously could only get at home or in the office – if at all.

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Advanced systems, such as Ford’s popular Sync, have been shown to improve brand recognition and owner loyalty – and can generate substantial revenue streams, as well.

But there’s a down side to the telematics revolution, underscored by government estimates that thousands of motorists and pedestrians are being killed each year due to driver distraction.


Ford Seeks Ways to Reduce Driver Distractions

Distraction lab seeks ways to keep drivers' eyes on the road.

by on Oct.20, 2009

Traffic is moderately heavy as I speed down the freeway, my eyes darting from the road ahead to the screen in the middle of my dashboard.

Data show 80% of accidents are caused by distracted driving, but if you have a collision in Ford's Distraction Lab, just hit "reset" and start all over again.

Data show 80% of accidents are caused by distracted driving, but if there's a collision in Ford's Distraction Lab, just hit "reset."

My task seems relatively simple: just find the address of a restaurant stored in my car’s navigation system and set is as my destination.  But before I realize what’s happening, I’m about to slam into the car ahead.  It’s a good thing it’s only a digital image on a virtual reality screen or I might be calling for a tow truck or worse, an ambulance.

Such a scenario shows just how dangerous the growing number of video screens in vehicles can be. Taken to its logical conclusion, automakers should be taking navigation systems out of cars. Precisely the opposite is happening of course, as they are are very profitable options.

A recent conference focused on the dangers of using cellphones to send text messages while driving.  And there’s evidence that to simply make phone calls while you’re behind the wheel is the equivalent of drunk driving.  But with the automobile becoming more and more the mobile equivalent of your living room or office there are plenty of other potential distractions that could lead to serious problems as well.

No Distractions...Just the Latest Automotive News!

No Distractions. Just the Latest News!

Which technology simply doesn’t belong?  And how do you make seemingly mundane tasks, like finding a song on your car’s audio system, safer?  That’s the goal of Ford Motor Company’s Human Machine Interface Verification Laboratory, otherwise known as the Distraction Lab.