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National Highway Transportation Safety Agency Says You Can Keep Your GPS — As Long As It's Completely Useless

from the to-continue-map,-please-eject-and-turn-to-Side-'B' dept

The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (hereafter “NHTSA” or “OMG,SRSLY?”) just published its recommendations and guidelines for reducing driver distraction, America’s number one cause of traffic accidents.* Universally hailed as a “dense document” and “full of minutia,” the NHTSA’s lengthy tome provides car makers with numerous diagrams and sub-paragraphs to aid them in building distraction-free vehicles for the Americans everywhere who wish to live a long, prosperous life full of road safety and optimal viewing angles.

*There are no statistics available to back up this claim, but obviously it must be true or this might seem like some sort of colossal overreaction.

Now, there are many drivers who feel that having a GPS system in their vehicle is a necessity. Much more “user-friendly” and less distracting than its predecessors, the multi-paged atlas and the impossibly-folded road map, the GPS has made it possible for travelers to drive into unfamiliar areas with confidence and ease. No longer forced to squint at 4-pt font road names or extrapolate from under-detailed inset maps, drivers can now receive easy-to-follow instructions delivered in plain English (or local language), whether the destination is the San Diego Zoo, Grandma’s house, or a quick drive off a cliff/into a lake.

Well, the NHTSA has decided that the GPS might possibly be too convenient, what with its moving display and modulated vocal instructions. According to the guidelines published in the VMNDDGIVED (Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices), GPS devices are welcome to act as co-pilot on your trip(s) so long as they don’t do anything distracting — like move, for instance.

Section V.5.b of the document titled Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices says that “Dynamic, continuously moving maps are not recommended.”

The section, which deals with photographs or videos, says that static or near-static maps for the purpose of driving directions are acceptable. Near static is defined as being updated every few seconds.

Considering your vehicle is in motion, it obviously makes the most sense that your map wouldn’t be. Updating “every few seconds” almost seems like it would be useful, but when you’re driving in fast-moving traffic, a Rand McNally slideshow just isn’t going to cut it. Those of us familiar with electronic devices would likely be prone to chalk this up to “lag” and take to the internets to bash the metropolitan area’s “framerate.”

But the NHTSA isn’t done bricking your GPS. It actually has more suggestions!

Every current installed navigation system uses the car as a fixed point, and shows the map moving around it. NHTSA wants that changed so as to keep the map fixed. Even showing the position of the car moving on the map could be considered a dynamic image. The recommendation seems to suggest that the position of the car could only be updated every couple of seconds. Likewise, the map could be refreshed once the car has left the currently displayed area.

So, now drivers will be battling choppy framerates and the “fog of war driving.” The previously-useful GPS system will be neutered into a “safe for driving” dashboard Rotoscope, offering directions moments after you need them and a view of the surrounding area just as you exit it. Somehow the NHTSA believes that this crippled technology would be better and less distracting for drivers.

[A]lthough NHTSA includes the results of driver distraction studies in the guidelines, it has no testing directly related to using a navigation system. Instead there are more general conclusions against any tasks that require looking at a device for periods of more than 2 seconds, or a series of glances that amount to more than 12 seconds at at time.

I would think that looking at a static map, and trying to find the particular street which you are on, would by much more time-consuming than seeing your exact position on a dynamic map.

But, wait! There’s (oh dear god) more!

The NHTSA guidelines also conclude that drivers can not comprehend more than 30 characters of text with a quick glance. Here is an example of 30 characters of text: “The new NHTSA guidelines make navig”.

Along with recommending that in-vehicle electronics display no more than 30 text characters at a time, the guidelines also take a position against scrolling text, so you could not read the rest of that sentence by having it roll on by.

The CNET post contains an image of an in-dash mp3 player which displays more than 30 characters, clearly violating these guidelines:

As Wayne Cunningham points out, the NHTSA thinks all drivers are hypnotized by the siren text of LCD screens.

Most people might merely glance down to read the current song title off the screen as they drive, but the NHTSA guidelines assume that when text is displayed, we drivers will be compelled to read all of it.

Now that we’ve got a better idea of how the NHTSA views the public (as compulsive morons), it explains why the agency feels compelled to handle every single aspect of driving. If all of these distractions are removed or rendered useless, traffic accidents will decrease astronomically, resulting in a new Golden Age of Driving, ushered in by the aggressive nannying of thousands of well-meaning bureaucrats. Of course, the NHTSA doesn’t actually have much in the way of evidence to back up its heavy meddling, but that’s so unsurprising I may as well have skipped writing this sentence at all:

The NHTSA document offers some figures that do not necessarily support the hours of work that must have been put in to come up with the guidelines. The document shows the number of accident reports for 2006 to 2010.

In 2010, the number of police-reported accidents amounted to 5,409,000. Of those, 17 percent were reportedly caused by driver distraction, an ample amount. However, only about half of one percent of the total crashes were caused by distraction from an in-vehicle system.

Let’s give the NHTSA the benefit of a doubt. Let’s say it’s right, even though it has no evidence to back up its assertions. GPS systems are rendered useless but people still need directions. Here are two possibilities:

  • The return of the accordioned road map, unfolded across the lap/passenger seat, scanned quickly between swerves and curses by the not-distracted-at-all driver who only occasionally has to drag the whole works across the steering wheel to pinpoint the difference between 1st Street and 1st Ave. at 45 mph.
  • People turn to their smartphones, most of which have built-in GPS apps or have any number of them available to download. Instead of quickly glancing at a large screen at dashboard level, they’ll be glancing furtively downward towards their non-driving hand in order to avoid being ticketed for Distracted Driving via Cellphone Usage.

Win-win! Or maybe the NHTSA could throw its weight behind something that might actually help, as Cunningham suggests:

My recommendation to NHTSA would be to spend its work hours drawing up a good driver training curriculum. Good, well-trained drivers are the best way to minimize the number of accidents.

It’s so crazy, it might work.

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Comments on “National Highway Transportation Safety Agency Says You Can Keep Your GPS — As Long As It's Completely Useless”

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152 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Distracted drivers are generally as bad if not worse than drunk drivers. The number of people involved in accidents because of cell phones and text messages is alarming. Any system that demands more than a second of a driver’s attention to operate is a distraction, and should be addressed.

It’s not about you and your wants, it’s about protecting everyone else from your careless attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Here in the US there is no such distinction. You take the test in whatever kind of car you have and it doesn’t matter for your license and it really doesn’t need to be. Most people who don’t know how to drive a stick won’t ever attempt it on the road anyway as it seems too complicated for them to even try and practically every one of us who learned to drive one were taught and got the hang of it in places like empty parking lots before we ever got on the road.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The other way round (manual licence, auto car) is fine though.

Which always struck me as odd given the number of people I’ve seen get into an automatic on holiday and press hard on the “clutch” – i.e. the other side of the oversized brake pedal – and all but propel everyone in the car through the windscreen…..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Although I have been guilty of trying to depress the clutch that isn’t there when getting into an automatic but I have never seen what you describe happen for the simple fact that most manufacturers don’t move the brake pedal over any just because there is more room for it. In the place were the clutch would be there simply isn’t anything there except an empty floorboard.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Most automatics I’ve seen have a double-wide brake pedal, easily big enough for both feet and the left naturally comes down on the other side. I’ve seen it plenty and did it myself the first time got into an automatic along with the ritual “fondling of the gearstick” approaching the first few corners. Of course manuals in other countries also present fun – the stroking of the door handle a couple of times when reaching for the gears ’til your brain catches on and switches programmes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I didn’t see any that appeared relevant. It should be noted that many of them are considered contributing to accidents from time to time, including “moving” video billboards. In some places, they have been outlawed, and limited to flipping slowly from page to page, rather than having full motion, exactly for those reasons.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

those appear in the movie ‘Vexile'(i think i spelled that right).

which was pretty good. CGI action flic. interesting twist at the end (which one might miss if not paying attention)…

pretty much anything that takes ‘lethal’ damage explodes in an epic ball of flame which somehow doesn’t actually destroy it and keeps burning for ages despite having only non-flamable materials for fuel though. hehe.

but yeah, has advertising that cruises along at the same speed as the cars on the walls on the sides of the highways.

Machin Shin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Thank you! It is good to know I’m not the only one who finds this stupid. My phone or GPS is a lot less distracting than some woman’s 2 year old screaming and throwing cereal. So unless they want to tackle that then they need to stay the hell out of my business.

If a cop sees me swerving all over then he can ticket me for reckless driving. If I hit something then I can be charged for that. Banning this stuff will not reduce wrecks it will likely just increase them. What you think will happen when someone is constantly cursing and having to do U-turns? He is very likely to cause a wreck when frustrated that he is always told about the turn 2 seconds too late.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“What you think will happen when someone is constantly cursing and having to do U-turns? He is very likely to cause a wreck when frustrated that he is always told about the turn 2 seconds too late.”

This, a thousand times this.

A few years ago I drove on average 33,000 miles a year. This was back when GPSs were expensive and didn’t work all that well so we had to rely on things like folding maps and Mapquest. After a few years of that I got my first GPS, then shortly I got a new phone with a GPS.

While I never had a wreck due to distracted driving (only ice), I did have several close calls thanks to poor Mapquest instructions. The frustration of not knowing causes more distractions then a simple moving picture.

With the GPS, I know at a glance the turn is still ahead. At a glance I can see how far I still need to go. And with a simple look I can tell when the GPS is wrong (happens more often then one would think, but less often then Mapquest).

Less frustration = less lapses of concentration. Constant and smooth updates = less frustration.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, the research shows that passengers don’t actually take up important parts of your attention. They’re sensitive to the road conditions, and shut up when important things are happening.

Your GPS, though, doesn’t.

Of course, the recommendations from the NHTSA are going to be tighter than are viable. But the point of it–that manufacturers of automotive devices should be designing to minimize driver distraction–makes a lot of sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Actually, the research shows that passengers don’t actually take up important parts of your attention. They’re sensitive to the road conditions, and shut up when important things are happening.”

Then you my friend have never had a spouse scream when another car has done something stupid even though you have been fully in control of the situation prior to the outburst.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

focus and concentration, and responsible parenting !!!

do you have any of those qualities ?
What the hell are you doing driving a car, when you have a 2 year old that has a shitty ass ?

PULL OVER, (in a safe location) change diaper, read map, FOCUS AND CONCENTRATE on each task, and continue to drive to tyour destination that you ALLREADY know how to get there.

Dont try to learn how to get there while you are going there, or you will die, or worse, kill someone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Dont try to learn how to get there while you are going there, or you will die, or worse, kill someone else.”

You also shouldn’t drink while driving. But we’ve learned that increasing the drinking age in one state may well result in an increase in fatalities as people drive even FARTHER to drink before they drink and drive.

Similarily, even if it’s good advice to not use the GPS at all, gimping the GPS may be WORSE than leaving it how it is now.

And has anyone considered that it might be a *passenger* using the device? What’s the point in making it nonfunctional if the driver’s not the one using it?

(And by the way, saying “You will die or kill someone else” is just not true. People drive distracted all the time without killing someone. The odds go up, yes, but not to the point of anywhere near it being certain or even probable.)

Jalek says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Passengers are already the worst distraction possible, I follow people driving below the speed limit all the time while they’re looking over at the passenger’s seat and only glancing back to the road.

Child passengers are the worst. They should be saving their lectures or “how was your day” conversations for the driveway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Richard you are barking stupid !!!

Speedometers are “at a glance” instruments, and you only need to look at it as a result of external stimulus, such as quickly checking if you are doing 50MPH or 55.

You drive at a speed your environment allows you to drive within the legal limit. It takes virtually NO time to glance at a speedo, or a temp guage, it is one needle in a typical position, that you should allready be aware of it’s approximate value.

Do you think you would be unable to drive a car at legal speeds without a speedo ? I know when i am above or below the speed limit just by looking out the window and watching the ROAD !!! (what you are supposed to do).

I also know where I am going BEFORE I START to go there, Dont you ?

If your ears are hearing something (like a radio or a conversation) does that stop you from being able to focus your attention on the task of driving a car ?

IMO, a person who cannot safely control a car if there is any form of distraction should not be allowed to drivea car, or do anything else for that matter….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

By that logic, you would want the GPS to be as easy and intuitive to understand as technically possible, so it only takes a momentary glance at the screen to orient yourself and figure out which turn to take. Most current GPS systems fit this criteria; indeed, as Tim notes GPS devices are far, far less distracting to drivers than predecessors such as road maps and atlases. The NHTSA suggestions would make this worse, both lengthening the time required to look at the screen and increasing the amount of attention you would need to decipher what it’s showing (i.e. decreasing the attention to the road).

In other words, the NHTSA suggestions will make GPS more distracting and more dangerous, and less useful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Static maps are a horrible idea. If the map is not moving, that means the vehicle icon must, which means it’s never in the same place twice. That means every time the driver looks at the GPS they have to first locate themselves on it and then figure out where the next turn it. A moving map is much more efficient – your vehicle icon is always in the same place – the center. So, you know exactly where to look which actually saves time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Could not agree more, distractions are bad for road safety. How do these recommendations accomplish the goal of addressing the distractions though? The recommendations assume the GPS is a device unto itself without considering that the actual distraction is needing directions in the first place. How does one minimize the impact of needing directions by making the GPS worse at providing them? Pretending a moving map and a movie are the same thing is asinine. A dynamic map ensures that, for any given glance, the driver is giving the correct directions. A static map that updates every few seconds requires you wait for the map to update before knowing where you are. That dramatically increases the distraction of needing directions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Laws already exist for this and fall under “Reckless Operation”

If you are texting/kissing/looking at an 8’x8’map/staring at the GPS/watching TV/insert other distraction here while driving instead of paying attention to the operation of your vehicle then you are driving reckless.

We do not need more laws/regulations/suggestions.
What we need are enforcement of the laws that are already in place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: More bunk.

But I saw it on MythBusters once!

Of course, the drivers were below the 0.08 “drunk” levels, for legal reasons. And they did the “distracted” before the “drunk” for both drivers, so they were more familiar with the course by the time they tested “drunk”. And they didn’t allow the “distracted” to put down the device even when they’d obviously need more attention on the road.

kenichi tanaka says:

The NTSB are morons. If the moving display on the GPS is a distraction then what about other drivers on the road, the rear-view mirror, other cars, motorcycles, the sideview mirror, sirens from a police vehicle, trucks, trains … in this flimsy excuse by the NTSB, then everyone on the road, every vehicle, every moving thing is a distraction so let’s just outlaw all vehicles.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ok. Everybody out of the pool...

Someone needs to explain to these people the concept of “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Seriously, they need to be removed from their positions over this. The level of incompetence demonstrated should be criminal given their positions.

Quo Vadis says:

Re: Ok. Everybody out of the pool...

Why do so many americans have a problem with the words ‘then’ and ‘than’
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool then open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool THAN open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

OR Better to quote with correct spelling or at least copy paste

Anonymous Coward says:

Do you seriously think they have it out for the GPS makers? Do you think they set a goal of making your life less entertaining? NO, their job is to provide guidelines which improve safety when operating motor vehicles on public roads. Will all of these guidelines be adopted, HELL NO, they never are. They are saying that moving images distract drivers and that is true. They are saying that too much text requires drivers to divert their eyes from the road for too long, that is true. The NHTSA is actually doing their job, maybe the FTC should take note.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No one said anything about them having any sort of evil plan to do in GPS manufacturers. All we are saying is they are incompetent bafoons that have demonstrated that they lack the capability of rational deduction necessary to provide the public and related industries constructive advice with regards to the safety of transportation.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

They’re incompetent buffoons because they publish a document containing knowledge and information that they’ve gathered?

It’s a fact that too much information causes operators of everything from fighter jets to machine tools to make mistakes.

It’s a fact that the guidelines they’ve published provide some insight into how to reduce the distractions from GPS and other devices.

You call publishing that information so that it’s accessible to people who have an interest in it evidence of incompetence.

You should probably hope that your boss has a slightly different definition of what constitutes incompetence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Gathered, or made up? Much of what they have said is dubious at best, especially when compared to known behaviors associated with user-centric design.

For example, their recommendation about making the screens static with limited updates. Most UI designers will tell you that giving people limited feedback from an interface where there is an expectation (intuitive expectation, hard to educate away) of continuous feedback will result in “fixation” meaning the individual will stop what they are doing and wait for the input because they need the feedback and do not want to miss it.

That example alone shows a severe lack of credibility on their part.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You accuse them of faking data yet you don’t cite any specifics. Cite something specific.

Why would you specifically claim that a specific source have manufactured data and then cite data from an anonymous source?

As it happens, I have a small bit of experience in UI design and a tiny bit of creativity in my head, so I can think of at least a couple of ways of reducing things. The most obvious one is to translate the visual image that people can’t simply look at and know when an update is coming, into a time until next update. If they’ve programmed a route, instead of constantly updating the map display the time until the next waypoint/turn/guidance will be given. People can look at a display once and can roughly estimate one minute or 4 minutes or whatever it is, and they won’t waste their time continually looking down to see if they are approaching a turn.

May or may not work but at least I don’t immediately take the defeatist “Oh, gee, they’ve told us not to supply more information than needed, I guess we better give up and make a really stupid UI”. Here in the US we’ve had that throw-the-hands-in-the-air attitude from the American automobile, steel and energy industry for as long as I’ve been alive and it has always turned out to be wrong.

Maybe rather than detracting from their credibility they add to it by giving UI designers more credit for creativity than you do.

Why don’t tachometers and speedometers display in 1/100ths of an RPM/mile/kilometer? Because it’s too much information and it isn’t useful. Why should a GPS show 1/100th of a mile position updates? It’s too much information and it isn’t useful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The fact that distraction and information overload causes mistakes is a given.

My criticisms were at the conclusions they drew about changes to the UI for GPS devices. They didn’t stop to think about what they were suggesting. The design they are suggesting would be HARDER to use and MORE distracting to drivers.

I also never said anything about the fact that they published it was evidence of their incompetence, I said WHAT they published was evidence of their incompetence.

Torg (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

They’re incompetent buffoons because their recommendations don’t logically follow from the knowledge and information they’ve detected and could make navigation more difficult with little to no benefit for safe driving. Yes, too much information can be hazardous. That does not mean that any information is hazardous. A GPS is more useful than it is dangerous, provided you don’t get hypnotized by its amazing continually updated display. That’s not as big an assumption as you seem to think, as doing so would require Darwin Awards-level stupidity, which isn’t prevalent enough to determine even unenforced policy.

“It’s a fact that the guidelines they’ve published provide some insight into how to reduce the distractions from GPS and other devices.”

Providing details about how a general category of things is problematic and then jumping to saying that a specific part of a particular member of that category should be removed isn’t actually that insightful or useful. For one thing, there’s no evidence that a moving GPS screen is ever the cause of driver distraction, and I can just as easily argue that a slow-updating one keeps your eyes off the road longer:
A continuously updating GPS means that you can glance at it at any time and expect it to be correct, where with one that updates every few seconds you’ll need to wait a few seconds to see where you currently are, potentially keeping your eyes off the road longer. Therefore, to reduce driver distraction, information should always be presented in as accurate and timely a manner as possible.

“You call publishing that information so that it’s accessible to people who have an interest in it evidence of incompetence.”

That bit was nice. Governmental organizations should always make it that easy to see what they’re doing. The content of the information would ideally be better, though.

“You should probably hope that your boss has a slightly different definition of what constitutes incompetence.”

I certainly do hope my boss judges my competence by my ability to make things available for online reading. I’d hardly ever have to do any real work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“They are saying that moving images distract drivers and that is true. They are saying that too much text requires drivers to divert their eyes from the road for too long, that is true.”

I guess it’s time to hack down those digital billboards that display scrolling text and animated ads then. Maybe some sort of organization should take notice of these kinds of things and do something about them.

Torg (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“NO, their job is to provide guidelines which improve safety when operating motor vehicles on public roads.”

Then they should probably focus on that, instead of proposing policies that sound like they might possibly fit a general idea of fixing a cause of one particular kind of car accident if you’ve never actually been in a car.

“They are saying that moving images distract drivers and that is true.”

Mirrors also display moving images. While moving images may distract drivers in some cases, the elimination of a tool for having moving images is not always wise.

“They are saying that too much text requires drivers to divert their eyes from the road for too long, that is true.”

No, it’s not. Most text is habitually ignored, and it doesn’t take long for a person to pick up on which sections of a screen actually matter. Checking Facebook while driving is stupid, but the display shown in the article would also be a violation of the guidelines, and no one’s ever crashed because they were reading about the different kinds of radio signals their car can pick up.

PlagueSD says:

Gotta love the “TSA”. If they’re the same morons that run our airport security, I don’t even want to know what they’re going to try to do with their stupid policies.

Everyday in traffic I curse and yell at all the idiots around me. Get off your phone, stop texting, quit putting on your makeup…For the love of God…Just get the hell out of my way!!!

A Guy (profile) says:

Wow…

Just wow…
Do you think this report was designed by republicans to help oust Obama in the coming election, or are the bureaucrats running the NHTSA really that tone deaf and incompetent?

This does seem like a really good way to generate an anti-nanny state sentiment among the American people, especially this close to the election.

However, it is also possible that Halnon’s razor, “Never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by incompetence” should apply.

What do you guys think, conspiracy, incompetence, or incompetent conspiracy?

Travis says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem is, if the manufacturers do not follow the “Guidelines”, they are opening themselves up for lawsuits from people who wreck then look for any reason to say its not their fault. (See every idiotic warning label you have ever seen, there’s websites dedicated to them.) This makes it a CYA move for manufactures to follow the guidelines, no matter how moronic they may be.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Can you cite an instance?

I see thousands of guidelines written for all sorts of user interfaces and recommended practices for use of all sorts of devices. I don’t see too many lawsuits brought. Doesn’t look endemic to me.

As I stated in my other response, I have more faith in designers and creative people than you do. I think it’s a false dichotomy to state “the UI either has to be like it is or else it will be stupid”. There are other possible outcomes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now personally i find all those supports to hold the roof of the car up get in the way of my line of sight, lets remove those. We can all drive convertibles.

Of course that means when it rains or snows, people will be distracted when they get wet. So no driving in anything but sunshine.

On a previous drive i noticed they post “scenic” route signs in places. It’s as if they design the area to be distracting with all the pretty landscapes! We should ban landscapes to prevent distracted driving!

Now enjoy driving in your weather free, landscape free, distraction free utopia.

Mark says:

Dynamic images

If dynamic images are so dangerous, then we really need to fix all the speedometers and tachometers out there. They tend to move more than once every few seconds. This could lead to very dangerous driver distraction! And don’t get me started on turn signals. They blink way to fast to be safe!

Should we be worried about too-rapid haptic feedback as well? If so, we should disable our anti-lock brakes. The pulses you feel in the pedal are far too rapid to be safe!

MikeVx (profile) says:

Brain fried, core dumped.

{Insert every internet meme in the spirit of ‘The Stupid, it burns!’ here}

I know that my GPS saves me a lot of aggravation on the roads. It is a Garmin, and updates two to three times a second in terms of position. In street-dense neighborhoods this frequent updating makes it fairly easy to turn on the right road without under-or-overshooting my target. While the screen is information-dense, I look for what I need. The overview lets me know the way the road ahead of me is going, this is very handy at night, as I have much more warning of sharp turns than your average sign gives.

The upper left corner has a button graphic that tells me the distance to my next turn and the direction I’ll be going in. When I get with 2 or 3 miles, it changes to show which lane I need to be in. This gives me time to change lanes without risking cutting anyone off.

The whole thing can be voice-operated, once you get past the power-on-PIN. I can ask it to find things like hotels, gas and food without having to touch it.

I find that having a GPS beats the daylights out of the old AAA Triptik strip-map system and the bulky tour books. Those were very useful in their day, but that day is past. For information while traveling, having a GPS is like having AAA in a very small box.

Real-time traffic information is handy, I’ve been diverted around tie-ups a number of times, and if I hit a traffic problem in areas not covered by traffic service, I can ask the device for a detour instead of trying to guess my way around or just sit in the jam and fume.

From my perspective, a GPS is an anti-distraction, and those who argue against the usability of them are demonstrating that they themselves really do not belong on the road.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Uh... call me crazy...

…but I always thought the word “Guidelines” (as used in the title of the document) meant “here are some things to consider in these situations”.

That gets followed by tirade upon tirade of doubtlessly bad drivers railing against being controlled and being forced to confront the existence of well established safety issues.

People, they’re guidelines, not laws. They’ve presented the information that they have in a manner they hope will help people make decisions. Maybe they went into too much detail, maybe they didn’t clearly identify what was well established science and what is logical inference. That’s no excuse for your hypersensitivity about your bad driving habits to suddenly explode on the interwebs.

It’s a fact that information overload from instruments causes distraction that leads to mistakes and accidents. It’s something that affects airline and fighter pilots so if you’re claiming that your “skillz” are superior to theirs, well, please excuse me while I snort some of my oatmeal out the left nostril.

They’re guidelines. They’re meant to apply to the average person/average driver. It wasn’t tailored for technologically astute and better-than-average education types that read TechDirt, though I wonder how good that education was when people go off on a tirade on such a small matter.

At least stop crying about how some recommendations are going to render GPS “useless”. There are technological solutions, like, oh, say allowing people to customize the display and have “inner city”, “highway” and “walking” display modes or something insanely outrageous like that. Then people who want to follow the guidelines and reduce risk can do so without upsetting all of the thousands of “aces” driving their cars who demand to be free to drive in any manner they want regardless of the potential costs to others who are forced to share the highways with them.

I use a GPS, both in car and on my motorcycle, and I use the dynamic display on it. I have the common sense to not try and read it when I’m riding 100+mph down a gravel road (which happens far more often than I would like my insurance agent to know) but my knowledge and self control does not somehow magically change the fact that it’s better and safer to minimize the distractions for drivers and riders.

I guess I have more confidence in my riding and driving skills than the complainers as I don’t feel threatened in the least by evidence or logical inference. I simply take it into consideration and use it to make informed decisions.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s really fun to laugh at this because the NHTSA are idiots. That’s fine. And they’re setting down arbitrary rules. That’s also fine–nobody listens to their specific recommendations anyway.

But there’s a solid point here: In-car devices should design their interfaces to minimize driver distraction.

That just makes sense. And many manufacturers opt for something that looks flashy in the showroom over something that is fundamentally safer.

The research on the topic at least backs up the idea that driver distraction is real, and that devices like GPSes and MP3 players add to it. That’s bad, no matter how stupid the NHTSA makes themselves look while trying to make their point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No one is questioning that the purpose they are supposed to serve or the validity of the position that distraction when driving is a bad thing. And if they were to recommending something like making voice activated UI mandatory for GPS devices, I could see that. But the recommendations they actually presented were not just dumb, but dumb to the point to call into question their ability to serve that purpose.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Traffic Fatalities Plummet Despite Fatalities

Ever hear the phrase “correlation is not causation”

My mind jumps to increasing number of cars with airbags, anti-lock brakes etc and fewer number of miles driven because of high gas prices.

Unless you have other information that ties the two things together it’s a non-argument.

TheOldFart (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Traffic Fatalities Plummet Despite Fatalities

I wasn’t proposing a testable theory, I was simply citing other instances of correlation.

BTW according to this: http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811552.pdf

…looks like a good chunk of the fatality decrease from 2009 to 2010 was due to a reduction in drunk driver fatalities – which means I missed stiffer drunken driving penalties in my laundry list πŸ™‚

Berenerd (profile) says:

Two images popped into my head...

“So, now drivers will be battling choppy framerates and the “fog of war driving.” The previously-useful GPS system will be neutered into a “safe for driving” dashboard Rotoscope, offering directions moments after you need them and a view of the surrounding area just as you exit it. Somehow the NHTSA believes that this crippled technology would be better and less distracting for drivers.”

Spyhunter anyone?

“a quick drive off a cliff/into a lake. “

RECALCULATING!

btr1701 (profile) says:

Phone GPS

> People turn to their smartphones, most of
> which have built-in GPS apps or have any
> number of them available to download. Instead
> of quickly glancing at a large screen at
> dashboard level, they’ll be glancing furtively
> downward towards their non-driving hand in order
> to avoid being ticketed for Distracted Driving
> via Cellphone Usage.

My iPhone fits perfectly on my dashboard between the speedometer and the tachometer. All it covers up is the temperature gauge, which isn’t really necessary anyway. And the contours of the dashboard naturally hold it firmly in place without the need for any extra brackets or clips. It’s perfect and completely invisible from outside the car.

But yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous in California that you can be cited for using a the same GPS app on your cellphone that you can legally use on a standalone device, just because it’s part of your cellphone and cellphone in car = bad.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Phone GPS

> People turn to their smartphones, most of
> which have built-in GPS apps or have any
> number of them available to download. Instead
> of quickly glancing at a large screen at
> dashboard level, they’ll be glancing furtively
> downward towards their non-driving hand in order
> to avoid being ticketed for Distracted Driving
> via Cellphone Usage.

My iPhone fits perfectly on my dashboard between the speedometer and the tachometer. All it covers up is the temperature gauge, which isn’t really necessary anyway. And the contours of the dashboard naturally hold it firmly in place without the need for any extra brackets or clips. It’s perfect and completely invisible from outside the car.

But yes, it’s absolutely ridiculous in California that you can be cited for using a the same GPS app on your cellphone that you can legally use on a standalone device, just because it’s part of your cellphone and cellphone in car = bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Static maps are a horrible idea. If the map is not moving, that means the vehicle icon must, which means it’s never in the same place twice. That means every time the driver looks at the GPS they have to first locate themselves on it and then figure out where the next turn is. A moving map is much more efficient – your vehicle icon is always in the same place – the center. So, you know exactly where to look which actually saves time.

cosmicrat says:

Idiotic

Will someone please save us from these morons??!! You know they are talking about automatically disabling smartphones while in cars too.

Hopefully the automakers will push back against this nonsense. If not I foresee market opportunities for hackers, jailbreakers and third party app developers who can restore safety enhancing full GPS functionality to us after these morons have screwed it up.

Anonymous Coward says:

108 comments and so far no one has used the words PULL OVER like everyone used to do when they needed to read a map, including the hypothetical idiot driving with a map on his lap.

The morons here are the people who try to read a map while they’re driving — regardless of the medium it’s displayed on, whether paper or screen — and any GPS devices that make that stupid action more tempting ARE a problem.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because life just isn’t that simple.

Just pull over and check the map.

Much better than having a voice talk you through the navigation.

Confused?

Can’t imagine why.

You know what’s really fun? Driving around major cities with narrow one-way streets, bad traffic, construction, detours, trying to find a hole in the wall you’ve never seen before in an unfamiliar neighborhood with poor signage… it’s easy to say “just pull over” but it can take 15 minutes just to find a place, and another 20 to get back for another look. (After two passes I gave up, skipped the interview, and went home. I wasn’t even sure I was on the correct street…) Or take Pleasant Ave. in Wyndmoor, PA, which has three separate, disconnected sections in less than a mile. Maps don’t make that obvious… but a GPS will guide you directly to the correct place. Miss a turn and didn’t notice? The GPS will prompt you, and if you managed to miss it, will guide you through an alternate route.

By the way, you don’t use the GPS to read a map in real time. You use a GPS to guide you through turns. That’s why it’s called “turn-by-turn navigation.” Generally it either displays a moving map with you on it (while you’re cruising), which just gives you a general feel of where you are, or a display of the upcoming turn. There’s some other information about how far or how long to the next maneuver, but if you’re spending a lot of time reading that, maybe you shouldn’t be driving at all? The odd glance is all that’s needed. And the GPS will prompt you verbally. The amount of visual attention you need to pay is minimal.

Using a GPS is just exactly unlike reading a map.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have no problems with any navigation system, human or machine, GPS or otherwise, that tells you “take the next left turn” as you’re driving. I have a problem with anything that tempts the driver to look away from the road for several seconds every few seconds, whether or not it’s a navigation system. Make your GPS navigation system verbal, not visual, and nobody will die because you used it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It is verbal… the map displayed on GPS is a secondary function for the driver. Primary function is “next turn left, 200m” spoken in the voice you chose at home.

GPS’s are not the problem – stupid people are. If they would look constantly on GPS and you take it away, they will just find something else. Like an app on their smartphone. This wouldn’t solve anything and actually could make things worse, as you would take away something that people are accustomed to.

darryl says:

Cant remember where Granny lives ?

Tim, when you are driving a car, it is an offense to be reading a map, or a book while you are in control of a moving motor vehicle.

When you are driving a car, you DRIVE the fucking car, if you dont know where you are going, YOU STOP!!!! until you find out where you are going then you continue on your way.

If you are trying to focus on a map, regardless of it being a paper one or one displayed on a screen you are NOT looking at the road, or where you are going.

Your paper map or GPS map will have display the 5 year old child that run out onto the road chasing a ball..

If you have NO IDEA where you are going, what the fuck are you doing going there in the first place ?

Do you have such a short attention span that you cannot pull over, determine the course you should take to get to your destination and then go there ?

Or do you need to refer to a map every time you have to turn the stearing wheel ?

If I drive somewhere, BEFORE I turn on the engine and start I get my GPS and I enter the destination, I LOOK AT IT, say to myself “OK, now I know where I have to go and how to get there” then I put my GPS in my pocket and drive to that location. All the time driving the car and looking out to avoid hazards.. (especially ones not displayed on any map).

How many road deaths are there in the US each year ?

Are you guys REALLY that stupid ???? at least AC 109 has worked it out,

The morons here are the people who try to read a map while they’re driving — regardless of the medium it’s displayed on

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Cant remember where Granny lives ?

> If you are trying to focus on a map, regardless
> of it being a paper one or one displayed on a
> screen you are NOT looking at the road, or where
> you are going.

Explain to me the qualitative difference between glancing at a GPS map and glancing at a speedometer. Or a fuel gauge. Or a temperature gauge.

And if your response is that one shouldn’t be doing that without pulling over, either, then you should immediately find a nice heavy brick and hit yourself in the head with it.

Torg (profile) says:

Re: Cant remember where Granny lives ?

What kind of moron focuses on a GPS? It tells you when to turn and you turn. That doesn’t take much focus. It’s nice that you still think maps are worth something, and I won’t try to stop you from navigating the slow way, but most of us here think of a map as the navigational equivalent of sending a paper letter through the Post Office.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Cant remember where Granny lives ?

Our Capitalist Tamer said all but srsly, I use my cellphone GPS for driving instructions. It’s not as good as the GPS on the panel but I don’t like a big flashy screen on my car during a night drive.

That said, I barely ever look at my cellphone screen even though it’s there. I follow the voice announcing the turns and other stuff I need to go. Then when I stop at the traffic lights I take a glance to check the next moves. It’s amusing, these traffic light stops are usually enough for me to trace a better route than the GPS is proposing and go for a while virtually ignoring the voice announcements.

In the case I’m in doubt and there are no traffic lights I’ll pull over (if possible) to check the area surrounding my car in the GPS. If I’m in a highway I’ll memorize the kilometer where the exit is and then get ready when I get near said exit. Sometimes I give it a quick glance not to be taken by surprise on parts of the road where you have many exits (when they cross with other roads for instance) but I don’t think kids will be playing on highways…

O_o says:

Maybe they should remove cars from the road. We can go back to using horse and buggy transportation.

I drove a semi for years with crappy directions on my qualcomm having to read it while on the move as well as my paper map.
This did not really worry my too much because if I did hit a car it would not have phased my truck too much lol.

Once I had a GPS it was very very handy and much safer. As you can imagine there’s not a lot of room to pull over in cities just to navigate while pulling a 53 foot trailer.

In a car sure I could pull over to use a paper map but it would be very very fucking annoying.

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