March 24, 2012

TAR AND FEATHERS: NHTSA May Make In-Car Navigation Unusable.

Last month, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency published a dense document with guidelines for automakers on how to minimize the distractions caused by in-vehicle electronics. Buried among equations for determining optimal display viewing angles and testing procedures is the recommendation that navigation devices should only show static or near-static images, which would essentially eliminate their usefulness. . . . Every current installed navigation system uses the car as a fixed point, and shows the map moving around it. NHTSA wants that changed so as to keep the map fixed. Even showing the position of the car moving on the map could be considered a dynamic image. The recommendation seems to suggest that the position of the car could only be updated every couple of seconds. Likewise, the map could be refreshed once the car has left the currently displayed area.

This recommendation would essentially make navigation unusable. The system could still give an auditory warning for the next turn, but without being able to glance down at the map and see how close the next street is would likely lead to a lot of missed turns and resultant frustration. And although NHTSA includes the results of driver distraction studies in the guidelines, it has no testing directly related to using a navigation system. Instead there are more general conclusions against any tasks that require looking at a device for periods of more than 2 seconds, or a series of glances that amount to more than 12 seconds at at time.

I would think that looking at a static map, and trying to find the particular street which you are on, would by much more time-consuming than seeing your exact position on a dynamic map.

The whole “distracted driving” thing is a fix in search of a problem. I have some related thoughts here.

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