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Driver Distraction? Don’t Look at Me!

Driver Distraction? Don’t Look at Me!
by Roger C. Lanctot on 10-06-2017 at 7:00 am

 The Automobile Club of America’s (AAA) ongoing battle with driver distraction, among other issues such as drowsy driving and teen driving, turns a new page with a report flagging 23 of 30 tested in-vehicle infotainment systems as demanding that drivers pay a high or very high level of attention when performing tasks with the vehicle in motion. The report arrives as car makers have almost completely abdicated responsibility for in-dash interfaces with the acceptance and adoption of Apple’s CarPlay and Alphabet’s Android Auto smartphone interfaces.

“New Cars Have More Distracting Technology on Board Than Ever Before” – Washingtonpost.com

A growing proportion of automotive infotainment systems come outfitted with one or both of the Silicon Valley-sourced solutions. Every head unit with Android Auto or Apple CarPlay has had to go through a certification process from one or both of those companies before coming to market. This has made Apple and Alphabet either driver distraction gatekeepers or enablers.

In fact, the Android operating system is steadily insinuating itself into these very same systems and will likely beging arriving in production vehicles as a native OS beginning late in 2018. This means the dashboard screens in cars and the user interfaces on those screens will be increasingly dictated by Alphabet and Apple.

This has to be maddening to AAA, which has long stressed the cognitive distraction of smartphone use in cars regardless of whether they are used hands-free or not. AAA has never been able to convince regulators to completely forbid smartphone use of any kind in moving vehicles and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems were seen as one way to mitigate distraction.

Now, it seems, these systems have actually opened up a Pandora’s box of tempting app-based distractions that may be undoing the intended prophylactic. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 3,477 people were killed in crashes attributed to driver distraction in 2015 and that the toll is rising.

AAA claims that the current systems violate NHTSA distraction guidelines, which are voluntary, not compulsory. For car makers, though, the rising influence of Apple and Alphabet means there is an increasing abdication of responsibility for distraction. The temptation for car makers is to blame Apple and Alphabet – that is, even though car makers are responsible for the interfaces that allow users to switch back to OEM-supplied interfaces or the car radio.

The AAA report arrives as car makers find themselves on a slippery artificial intelligence slope. While some auto makers are working on AI systems (like IBM Watson-infused OnStar Go from GM) designed to provide personalized AI systems built into the cars – Apple and Alphabet are poised to step up their in-dash game with artificial intelligence systems of their own designed to further mitigate distraction by emphasizing voice commands over touch screen interfaces.

This battle will ultimately unfold over access to vehicle sensor data, something that automakers have strenuously sought to wall off from Apple’s and Alphabet’s smartphone platforms. But if pressure grows from regulators, car makers may be forced into the arms of Apple and Alphabet who may have greater resources to bring to the challenge of mitigating distraction based on the complete sensor-infused driving context.

Alphabet certainly has an edge here as Android begins penetrating dashboards as a native operating system. AAA would likely not approve given its opposition to smartphone use in vehicles of any kind. The only alternative may be to turn the entire car into a smartphone on wheels – which, come to think of it, is more or less what is happening. Or maybe revert to the regular old car radio. Yeah, right.

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