Principal Technical Analyst
On 02/24/12, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new guidelines for auto manufacturers that cover original-equipment, in-vehicle devices that augment or facilitate “secondary tasks” in which visual information is received and a physical action is performed in response to that information.
By “secondary tasks,” NHTSA means actions that we perform while we operate or control the vehicle, which are not part of the primary task (driving), such as entertainment and communication. For example, the timely prompt from your GPS device to “in a half mile, make a right turn,” is considered part of the primary task (driving), but texting a friend your arrival time is a secondary task.
Almost all drivers engage in secondary tasks while driving (such as adjusting climate control, changing radio stations), and often there is very little decrease in their safety. However, as technological advances make more and more options accessible to the driver, the potential exists to build in dangerous devices. For example: your in-dash GPS display isn’t a distraction under most circumstances, but imagine if that same display showed your Facebook News Feed! [Please note that absolutely no manufacturer has ever proposed this extreme example.]
In order to differentiate between the less extreme (and more realistic) examples of safe versus unsafe technology, researchers considered variables such as the type of information displayed, the manner in which it is displayed, and the type of manual response elicited by the information.
The NHTSA guideline describes five types of displays or devices that are always unsafe. They are:
- Photographic or video images not immediately related to driving (images such as blindspot cameras, GPS navigation, and weather information are considered directly related to the driving task);
- Photographic or graphical static visual images that are unrelated to driving (such as album art and personal photos);
- Automatically scrolling text;
- Manual text entry of more than six key presses;
- Reading more than 30 characters (not including spaces and punctuation).