How Telematics Can Help Prevent Driver Distraction

How Telematics Can Help Prevent Driver Distraction

In the U.S. alone last year, nearly 6,000 people were killed and 500,000 injured in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction, according to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) data. Causes vary, but these figures include drivers who were talking on cell phones and texting. In fact, on any given day in 2008, more than 800,000 vehicles were driven by someone using a hand-held cell phone, the DOT reports.

Finding ways for telematics to reduce driver distraction should be a major priority, according to Myles H. Kitchen, automotive electronics consultant/analyst at M.H. Kitchen & Associates. “The load on the driver is constantly increasing,” says Kitchen. “The newer navigation devices, the newer communication devices, and newer cars with more features and instrumentation simply place more distractions in front of the driver.”

“From a technology standpoint, you can certainly use some of the new human machine interface (HMI) technology to create a hands-free environment,” says Phil Magney, vice president, automotive research at iSuppli. He points out that voiced-based solutions are becoming very popular for navigation, changing radio stations and other applications, adding that embedding functions in the steering wheel is another way to help drivers keep their eyes on the road. “There is a tremendous amount of functionality built into the steering wheel now,” he says. “That really does create a much safer environment.” Information displayed to the driver through the instrument cluster is also a better alternative than viewing the screen of a handheld device. “Overall, HMI technology has the ability to minimize distractive behavior,” Magney concludes.

Mark Fitzgerald, senior automotive analyst at market research firm Strategy Analytics, thinks voice is the ideal solution for a hands-free interface, but is not sure its current capability is sufficient: “It’s better every year, but I don’t think it’s a perfect HMI solution just yet.” Though voice recognition has been under development for more than 20 years, even today’s best systems are about 70% accurate at best, according to Kitchen. “The Ford Sync system is very popular and has gotten lots of good press,” he says, “but I’ve seen user tests that have accuracy rates as low as 11%.”

One company seeking to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of voice recognition is Speak with Me. [] Its easily-integrated voice technology platform is the result of over 10 years of research into speech and natural language search at Carnegie Mellon University. The Speak with Me solution is a layer of software, which goes between the voice recognition and the user interface, that performs a natural language search not unlike a Google search. “You can see accuracies of well over 99% on vocabularies of 300,000 words with this approach,” says Kitchen, with a response time of milliseconds. “When it is resident locally on the device, it is undetectable.” So, for Magney of iSuppli, the answer to driver distraction is simple: “Allow the technology to become the solution to the problem, not the cause of the problem.”

Randy Frank


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