Cole, who knows the automotive market as well as anyone in the country, cites the lack of success of Tata Motors' Nano, a bare-bones city car that retailed for a scant $2,100 and still missed its mark, even in India's economically challenged market.
"It's been a bomb in the market," he said. "Many people don't want a car with no extra features."
The debate over cellphone use is also complicated by the question of whether a cellphone really is a distraction. Few would argue that texting while driving is a safety issue, but many phone users cite the availability of Bluetooth headsets to eliminate potential distraction. With Bluetooth, they say, a phone is no more a distraction than a car radio or a crying child in the back seat.
Still, Bluetooth technology doesn't help drivers deal with center console displays, many of which have gotten maddeningly complex. Some use as many as 15 buttons and require drivers to step through a menu of four or five nested screens, all of which qualify as a major distraction. Cole predicts that the auto industry will ultimately settle the problem with the development of reconfigurable displays that can change to meet the individual driver's needs. Those who have difficulties with complex features will be able to simplify the display to minimize the distraction, he said.
Of course, that won't help clueless drivers who seem incapable of understanding when they're distracted. "This is a huge dilemma for the industry," Cole said. "You're dealing with human nature here. People want what they want. And sometimes they want more than they should have."
To keep up with our EV coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Chevy Volt across America to interview engineers.
I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly that driver distraction is a huge, huge problem for safety, but as much I know cell phones and tablets are the root cause of the distraction, I could never support a ban on cell phones and tablets in the car. It's just not realistic. Human nature is such that you can't give someone a capability that they enthusiastically embrace and then take it away. They're just going to do it any way. Therefore, the onus (and the opportunity) is really on the automotive and electronics engineering communities to dig deep and come up with some totally creative and innovative human interface technologies that allow us always-connected zealots to have our cake and eat it too.
I live in a city that has banned cellphone use except for hands-free devices. I think it's a good idea. But I'm not convinced that hands-free means the driver is less distracted. I don't think it's the hand holding the phone that's the problem. I believe my driving is just as safe when I'm drinking a cup of coffee. I think it's the conversation while driving that causes the problem.
That has always made me wonder why a conversation with a passenger is not districting, yet a conversation on a cellphone is. I suspect it has to do with the fact that the driver and the passenger are both watching the road and the conversation naturally pauses when the driver has to execute a move through traffic.
When radios were first introduced in cars, there was outcry about driver attention.
As usual, the bureaucratic response to a real problem is a complicated "solution" that won't help at all! Let's just try acting like engineers for a change, and analyze the problem before looking for a solution! The real problem is the vast number of poorly (or more commonly) un-trained licensed drivers. In most states, the "driving test" doesn't ensure the ability to perform even the most basic of driving tasks. In my area, at least 35% of drivers can't drive more than 500 feet without straying from their lane. Back in ancient times, when I was in my MANDATORY (in those days) high-school driver ed classes, they started with 20 hours or so of classroom work before we could even apply for our permits and get behind the wheel. Lesson #1 was to ALWAYS be fully aware of what was going on around you, in all directions. You had to keep your eyes constantly moving to do that. You couldn't POSSIBLY be involved with anything else (like talking on the phone, tuning the radio, shaving, putting on makeup, etc.) and comply with that directive! It has served me well, and both my sons who I trained the same way (starting ONLY after they had completed a formal driver-ed course and gotten their "licenses" which for me only meant they could now begin the REAL training!). My last charged accident was in 1964, well over a million miles ago. Oh, I've been hit several times, always by drivers who weren't paying attention to what was going on around them; neither I nor my insurance company has laid out one penny (except for the one claim after I was hit by an uninsured driver). I don't recall one word in our Constitution (or even the Declaration of Independence, which some confuse with the former) that grants an "imalienable right" to a driver's license. Get the inept off the roads! That also would proably save more fossil fuel than 100 million EVs!
I totally agree Rob. The hand manipulation is a distraction, but the conversation is definitely worse. But there is no way with today's always-on society that people will settle for anything less than full connectivity in their vehicles.
I agree about people not giving up their mobile communications in the car. Before Albuquerque passed the no hands-on cellphone law, I used to count the number of drivers on the phone at my nearest intersection. It was about 10 percent. Once the law was passed, it went down to probably 5 percent. Part of that, of course, was that the law was only enforced when illegal cellphone use was accompanied by another traffic infraction such as running a red light or speeding. Drivers quickly figured out they were safe to break the law as long as they were following all the other traffic laws.
Once again, the government agencies lump things together into a category. I am not really interested in "distraction" related events. There are lots of distractions besides cell phones. I really want to know how many are cell phone related. I say this becuase most of the time i see someone do somthing stupid or annoying in traffic, I notice they are on a cell phone. I have not, fortunately, noticed that these are involved in accidents. That is not to say that they are not, I just have not seen any.
Cell phones are different from tablets. They are also different from other distractions, such as food, the radio or children. In the Chicago area, where I live, the City of Chicago has a hands free requirement, but not the collar counties. I support the city stand, and would not have a problem if it was extended. On the other hand, I have not seen any data that would support that.
Just an interesting observation about those screens on the center console. Many years ago I was in Germany, in a Japanese car with an Indian driver. We needed to change the destination on the GPS. The system would not let him as long as the car was moving. At the time, I thoght it was silly. Now, I am not so sure.
Good points, Rob. regarding your question about whether a conversation with a front seat occupant is any more distracting than cell phone conversation: experts tell me it isn't (this will appear in a subsequent article). Researchers break distractions down to cognitive and visual. Cognitively, a front seat conversation is no different than a cell phone conversation. Visually, however, the cell phone conversation becomes more distracting, particularly if the driver has to search, reach or dial. That's why we have Bluetooth head sets.
Ratsky, you raise some good points about young drivers. The experts I've spoken to (after filing this article) say that there's a big difference between teens and adults, some of whom have been driving for many years. Cognitively, a cell phone -- even one with a Bluetooth headset -- can be distraction for teens. In other words, the conversation itself is a distraction for them, let alone the process of dialing. Teens, it seems, tend to want to look at their passengers when they talk to them, whereas longtime drivers have generally cultivated the habit of looking straight ahead while they talk.
You're right, Beth, the onus is on the automakers, but I doubt they will do anything about it as long as there's a big market for electronics. On the flip side, municipalities that have tried to legislate it and some are making matters worse. In Lake Forest, IL, for example, it's been reported that the city council is looking at two ordinances -- one aimed at cellphone use and another aimed at distracted driving. According to the Chicago Tribune, the distraction ordinance could address adjusting the radio or eating, among other things.
I'm very surprised that nobody yet has brought up the advantages of the new natural-language voice-recognition HMIs! Many of the new systems require only a tap on the voice-recog trigger button (many cars have them on the steering wheel); from there on, it's all done by voice. That wouldn't help much with teens, though. It's pretty well established they'd rather thumb/type than talk.
The question of whether engineers could have foreseen the shortcut maintenance procedures that led to the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979 will probably linger for as long as there is an engineering profession.
More than 35 years later, the post-mortem on one of the country’s worst engineering disasters appears to be simple. A contractor asked for a change in an original design. The change was approved by engineers, later resulting in a mammoth structural collapse that killed 114 people and injured 216 more.
If you’re an embedded systems engineer whose analog capabilities are getting a little bit rusty, then you’ll want to take note of an upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center class, “Analog Design for the Digital World,” running Monday, Nov. 17 through Friday, Nov. 21.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.