Distraction in the automobile can be broken down into three main categories: Visual (eyes off the road), Manual (hands off the wheel) and Cognitive (mind distracted from driving).
The most dangerous distractions involve the overlap of all three of these types: the driver is looking away, removing one or both hands from the wheel, and not paying attention to the road.
One of the main sources of distraction is a driver’s mobile phone. In our modern “always connected” culture, people are accustomed to continuous communication throughout the day. Answering or initiating emails, phone calls and text messages are a constant temptation that pull a driver’s eyes, hands and minds off the road.
In the same CDC study analyzing 2011 data, 31 percent of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported reading or sending texts or emails while driving at least once in the last 30 days before surveyed.
WHY DO PEOPLE USE THEIR MOBILE PHONE IN THE CAR?
Due to increased automobile reliability and longer auto loans, drivers are holding on to vehicles longer; the average length of vehicle ownership has increased to seven years, nine months. And because of the long development cycle in the auto industry, designs can be frozen as much as three years in advance, which means that the onboard system can be outdated even in a brand-new vehicle.
In contrast, mobile phone technology moves at a rapid pace – with consumers replacing their phones approximately every eighteen months.
The driver’s main tasks in the car: navigation, playing media, and communicating with others (via dialing or text or email) can all be handled by a mobile phone. Because these devices contain the latest and greatest technology in maps, online media, and communication applications, users generally prefer using their phone over a built-in car system that is likely outdated.
In a driving environment, any and all tasks should be secondary to the primary task: driving. In-car displays with larger screens and turn-by-turn directions (read to the driver) were designed to minimize driver distraction. However, this gain cannot be realized if those built-in systems are not utilized.
In contrast, the mobile phone was designed to be an immersive device. The screen is small, and it requires a touch interface for most tasks. Even initiating a speech input on most mobile devices requires a press-and-hold or double-press of the home key, although some systems can now be initiated verbally under some special circumstances (connected to power).
SPEECH IS THE NATURAL INTERFACE FOR THE CAR
The only truly hands-free, eyes-free interaction in the automobile is a speech interface: text-to-speech (TTS) output, and speech input parsed by a speech recognition and natural language processing (NLP) engine.
But speech recognition in the car represents a significant challenge. It is generally a high-noise environment, reducing the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio), which in turn reduces accuracy and performance.
In addition to the performance challenges, in-car systems have traditionally been designed by the automakers themselves, rather than experts in the voice user interface (VUI) domain. This leads to non-optimal design solutions, which in-turn leads to lower adoption by users.
The top questions being voiced around automobile systems are: “Why are these systems so bad?” and “How can they be improved?”. Generally, this can be explained by the dichotomy between the auto industry (slow-moving, conservative) and the mobile software industry (fast-paced, aggressive).
Big technology companies making plays in the auto domain will likely push the industry towards better, more up-to-date systems.
How do you access entertainment and stay connected while driving? Do you have a special system or special equipment to help you?