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Dashboards that Distract Part 3

May 8, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
So far in this series, we’ve looked at the potential of dashboards to be as distracting as smartphones, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has data showing 26,000 crashes in 2010 were the result of something in the car design distracting the driver. With that in mind, NHTSA has issued nonbinding guidelines for manufacturers aimed at keeping a driver’s eyes aimed down the road.

The first set, issued in April, is aimed at original equipment designed into cars and light trucks. A second phase of guidelines will aim at aftermarket add-ons and portable devices in the car. A third phase will look at voice-activated and controlled systems.

NHTSA’s April report for manufacturers states devices should be designed so that the driver never takes his eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time, and no more than 12 seconds total to complete a task.

That sounds complex, but it isn’t, really. Think about it. If you’re heading north on Route 7 at about 58 mph (my friends in the state patrol will seek the bigger fish with their new Dodge Chargers), you should be mainly focused on the road. If you decide to flick on the air conditioner because it’s hot and you don’t want to smell the garbage train heading south to Mingo Junction, you will need to 1. Find the window switches. 2. Push the switches to raise the windows. 3. Rotate a knob or push a button to activate the air conditioner. 4. Make sure you have it on the recirc setting to get the car cool and keep out the New York/Long Island Stink from the train. 5. Grab another knob and raise the fan speed to a desired level.

If you do all of that without ever looking back to the road, you’ll be wearing a utility pole as a necklace or a guardrail as a belt. So, it’s a series of two second glances with your hand moving to push switches and turn knobs as needed in split second intervals after each glance. Let’s say you were just adjusting the air conditioner without the window operation. All told, your series of glances necessary shouldn’t take more than a total of 12 seconds, two seconds at a time.

And 12 seconds is important to a driver because ultimately, according to a whole bunch of research and various state driver’s manuals, the driver should have awareness of what’s going on about 12 seconds ahead of his vehicle. I also was taught that my scan, from left mirror to instrument panel to rearview to right mirror should take place in split second glances about every 12 seconds or so, too. NHTSA outright locks out any text-messaging system, as well as scrolling messages and video for drivers as too distracting. Period. That does not mean cars cannot include such systems, but the driver must not be able use them or access them while the car is in motion, NHTSA says.

That does not mean display screens cannot show the car company logo, or that navigation maps cannot be moving. However, when it comes to navigation systems, NHTSA recommends two-dimensional line maps, no satellite images, no three-dimensional buildings.

What’s it all mean? See Part 4 of Dashboards That Distract tomorrow.

 
 

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