GM to study driver distraction from auto gadgets

The race is on between automakers, technology vendors and parts suppliers to establish a foothold in the burgeoning in-vehicle communications space. But before anyone reaches the finish line, General Motors wants to study the risks of those services for drivers.

The race is on between automakers, technology vendors and parts suppliers to establish a foothold in the burgeoning in-vehicle communications space. But before anyone reaches the finish line, General Motors wants to study the risks of those services for drivers.

GM chairman Jack Smith announced the initiative at Convergence 2000, an automotive conference in Detroit focused on telematics (in-vehicle communications). The new programme, called SenseAble Driving, will look at the risk of distraction new electronic gadgets pose for drivers.

The automaker plans to spend about $US10 million over three years to look into the safest ways to equip vehicles with communication devices and to sponsor public awareness campaigns on driver safety throughout the US.

Smith says the SenseAble Driving initiative will take a "common sense" approach to identifying ways to improve telematic systems and driver safety. He says the results will be shared with other automakers and the secretary of state in Michigan.

According to reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an estimated 25% of 6.3 million reported crashes each year involve some form of driver distraction, such as cellular phone use.

GM plans to develop public service announcements and advertising to inform drivers about distractions and safe driving.

Detroit-based GM leads its automotive rivals in telematics. The world's number one automaker launched OnStar in 1996 and equips 32 of its 54 vehicle lines with the system today. OnStar uses Global Positioning System technology developed by GM subsidiary Hughes Electronics, combined with cellular calling, to provide subscribers with emergency roadside assistance and concierge services.

The use of potentially distracting LCD panels on telematic devices has been a safety concern for automakers and regulators. But each telematic vendor has sought different techniques to develop their dashboard devices.

OnStar customers access the system through voice-activated commands, as will users of Troy, Michigan-based Delphi Automotive Systems's Communiport Mobile Productivity Center, developed with Palm, which is expected to be available in December.

But a dashboard device, developed as a demonstration for the Convergence2000 conference to showcase Microsoft's Cars.Net development platform, used voice-activated commands and a touch-activated colour panel. That device came equipped with a safety lock that would permit drivers to disengage screen use while a vehicle is in motion.

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