Automotive > In-Vehicle UX Blog

NHTSA Driver Distraction Recommendations Need Some Revision

by Chris Schreiner | Mar 27, 2012

In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released recommendations to address driver distraction associated with in-vehicle electronic devices. For the most part, the work conducted by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) resulting in a set of voluntary guidelines was rewarded, as it framed the NHTSA guidelines and tweaked some of their methodologies. While this is generally good news for OEMs, there are two issues in particular which could result in a big shift in how navigation and infotainment are provided to the consumer.

The first oddity is recommendation V.5.g, in a section describing things which should be locked out while driving. Among the items to be locked out are “Reading more than 30 characters (not counting punctuation marks, counting each number, no matter how many digits it contains, as one character, and counting units such as mph as just one character) of visually presented text.”

The 30-character limit didn’t come out of thin air, but instead came from the existing guidelines from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) which are considered the strictest of the existing guidelines.

This will affect radio, other music options, and connected services. Connected media players and internet radio display artist, song title, and album title information. Under this 30-character rule, not all of this information can be displayed. Album title would most certainly have to go, and in some cases combinations of song title and artist which exceeds 30 characters would also not be allowed to be displayed in full. Scrolling text is also frowned upon so there would be no way to access this information while in motion. NHTSA might argue that drivers would be compelled to read all text, but in this use case I would argue that is not the case, and that assumption would need to be backed up by research.

The second could drastically impact navigation, and result in actually increasing distraction to the driver, and will set back the navigation UX many years. This is under section V.5.b which states “The display of either static or quasi-static maps (quasi-static maps are static maps that are updated frequently, perhaps as often as every few seconds, but are not continuously moving) for the purpose of providing driving directions is acceptable. Dynamic, continuously moving maps are not recommended.”

This actually makes me wonder if anyone at NHTSA has ever used a navigation system. Dynamic maps are a great assist to the driver, particularly when approaching a turn in an urban area. Forcing maps to only update every few seconds would likely increase the number of glances and glance time toward the nav system as the driver’s eyes will watch for the next update to assess their position. It simply goes against good (and most importantly safe) UX design.

Hopefully during this period of public comment, NHTSA will rethink some of these recommendations which do not enhance safety and simply make technology less usable for the consumer.

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