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Eyes on the road, warns safety watchdog

Connected car: Holden says it is minimising driver distractions in its vehicle range by introducing voice control technology.

US government calls on car-makers to minimise distractions behind the wheel

General News logo24 Apr 2013

THE US road safety watchdog has called on car-makers to disable social media functions in cars, warning they would otherwise add to a “deadly epidemic” of driver distractions.

The US Department of Transport yesterday released a series of voluntary guidelines it hopes car-makers will adhere to so that social media integration, such as Facebook and Twitter, won’t drag a driver’s eyes from the road.

The guidelines include recommendations to limit the time drivers take their eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time, and 12 seconds in total.

It also wants several functions disabled unless the car is stopped, including manual text entry, video phoning and videoconferencing, and the display of text, including text messages, web pages and content from social media.

"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said while announcing the guidelines.

"These guidelines recognise that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need. Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives."In Australia, Holden is slowly rolling out its MyLink entertainment system across its cars. MyLink piggybacks off a smartphone’s internet connection to provide a range of mobile phone-like applications inside the car.

It first appeared in the top-specification Barina small car late last year, and has since been upgraded to include more functionality, including streaming music, internet-based radio stations, and even navigation functions.

While it does allow drivers to update their Facebook page on the go, it uses an Apple iPhone-based voice-to-text recognition system to update a driver’s status on the internet.

Holden’s social media and digital communications manager, Andrea Matthews, said the car-maker would be careful to ensure drivers using MyLink were not distracted.

“The MyLink system that we’ve got in our vehicles and that we’ll be rolling out across our range is very much focussed on minimising driver distraction,” she said.

“Things like voice control are a key feature of the MyLink system and we’ve developed it around ensuring that the driver maintains their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.

“Once you’ve attached your device to the car, you shouldn’t need to touch it again.”

She said that was what the US Department of Transport’s recommendations seemed to be targeting.

Ms Matthews said there was “a lot of technology” that a car-maker could introduce inside its vehicles, but “whether it’s right to do that is the thing that we’ve worked through” to develop the system for Holden-badged cars.

“I think that the other thing that we recognise is that generally drivers are more inclined to use their devices when they’re in the car.

“So what we’ve been doing is looking at the things that actually acknowledge that drivers do want to stay connected, particularly Gen Y drivers, so how do we facilitate that and make it safe for them?”

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