Smart Devices Will be the Reason behind Distracted Driving — But They’re Also the answer

This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

As vehicles get smarter, auto manufacturers are desperate for a balance between passenger safety and the increasing consumer demand for entertainment and communication.

Each day, about 9 folks are killed and a lot more than 1,153 folks are injured in crashes that are reported to involve a distracted driver, in line with the CDC. And the NTSB has listed distracted driving – from mobile phones to in-dash systems and other hands-free devices – on its 2014 “Most Wanted” list, which identifies the year’s biggest transportation challenges.

Texting while driving is normally considered the most dangerous – however the growing functionality of entertainment systems in vehicles is raising concerns aswell. While manufacturers of the systems have put much emphasis on the application of voice interaction, shortcomings in the technology can still bring about drivers taking their eyes off the street and focusing them on the fun stuff in the dashboard.

That, partly, is what resulted in Ford’s recent update of its Sync in-vehicle communications and entertainment system.

“We’ve always had an focus on voice – and we see people want to utilize it, but it’s not so snappy or fast,” says Liz Halash, product development engineer for Ford’s Sync system. “We make an effort to make things simple to operate and intuitive.”

Sync 3 incorporates more conversational voice commands – much like today’s smartphones. Users, for example, can say “Find me a sit down elsewhere” and the machine will navigate them to the nearest barista.

Still, Sync 3 doesn’t completely address the distracted driver issue. As the system will connect to a driver’s phone and read a text aloud, drivers may also browse the message on the console – and they’re also in a position to scroll through their contacts list on a screen because they drive.

Hyundai, meanwhile, is revealing video concept footage at CES of ideas that could prevent distracted driving accidents in future car models. The company’s proposed Highway Drive Assist System automatically keeps cars in the right lane and maintains a proper distance between vehicles, as the Autonomous Emergency Stop System will sense if the driver is debilitated and maneuver the automobile to the shoulder of the street to avoid.

The business did not give a timeframe for implementing either program, though.

At the Intel booth, SeeingMachines is demonstrating a different type of prototype to address the problem – a face-tracking camera that knows whenever a driver has taken her or his attentions from the road.

Buzz Dean, senior vice president of engineering, says if the driver glances away to, say, read a text just as another vehicle pulls before her or him, the machine will issue an alert – which range from a note, audio signal or haptic feedback, such as for example shaking the brake pedal if you’re too near an automobile or vibrating your seat if the machine feels you’re getting drowsy.

“It’s raising awareness and helping drivers understand what’s going on while they’re distracted” he says. “It’s a marriage of tech within the automobile and what we add with vision systems.”

SeeingMachines has struck partnership handles several manufacturers, says Dean, however they have not yet been publicly revealed. He expects the technology to maintain cars within 3 years.

That may possibly not be enough for a few government officials, though.

“While regulations already prohibit [personal electronic device] usage in a few operations, such as for example during commercial flight operations and by on-duty rail operations personnel, these regulations have to be expanded to … all automobile drivers,” the NTSB said in a statement. “Such regulations set a tone for exactly what will and can not be tolerated when operating … vehicles.”

Automakers acknowledge the problem, but say given how widespread the usage of phones and other entertainment devices is becoming, it’s unrealistic to anticipate people to not utilize them on the highway.

“Automakers have already been attempting to mitigate distraction in vehicles since we developed the first group of distraction guidelines in 2003 – years before this problem entered the broader public debate and a complete decade before NHTSA published its guidelines for vehicles,” said the Alliance of Automotive Makers, an automotive trade group made up of 12 car and light truck manufacturers including BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM and Toyota. “But today’s consumers insist upon connectivity all the time and

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