NSC Director Speaks Out Against Voice-Enabled In-Car Systems

National Safety Council Senior Director of Transportation Initiatives David Teater last week took part in a day-long summit on technological solutions to distracted driving, expressing the belief that these systems create unnecessary distractions for drivers.

"The rapid advancement and adoption of communications technology has resulted in a new and dangerous level of driver distraction," Teater said. "It is likely that technology can go a long way in reducing distraction; however, if we continue down the current path of enabling drivers to engage in all sorts of infotainment and communications activities, we may be normalizing a dangerous practice that will be difficult to unwind in the future."

The summit, "Over-Connected and Behind the Wheel: A Summit on Technological Solutions to Distracted Driving," was hosted by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

Teater outlined NSC's belief that by allowing drivers to make phone calls, send and receive text messages and emails, and use social media, these systems take a driver's focus away from the road. NSC believes technology can be a solution to the distracted driving epidemic but does not believe these in-vehicle systems are the answer. Research has shown voice-to-text infotainment features are dangerous and do not offer drivers any safety benefit, it asserts.

"We recognize there is a mad rush toward communications technologies, and we don't want to stop any kind of technology development," Teater said. "We simply want them to be used at the right time and place, and driving a vehicle is not the right time or place to do anything not related to driving. With that in mind, we urge the auto industry to limit the use of infotainment systems by drivers. The industry is already doing this in some ways. Most auto companies prevent moving video from being seen by drivers while a vehicle is in motion. Extending this kind of limitation to drivers' use of phones and Internet would be a significant life-saving move by the industry."

NSC has encouraged automakers to work toward giving drivers, parents, and employers the option of disabling non-driving related functions that are built into vehicles. NSC has also recommended that automakers collaborate with the wireless and consumer electronics industries and private technology firms to expedite development and deployment of technology solutions to driver distraction.

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