The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) has developed 23 voluntary guidelines for telematics devices and their use in vehicles, but safety advocates say the rules do not go far enough.
Telematics devices, including global positioning systems (GPS), in-vehicle Internet services and entertainment devices and cell phones, have been the subject of much debate regarding their safe use while driving. Federal auto safety regulators say driver distraction, which includes using telematics as well as talking and eating, causes an estimated 20% to 30% of all auto accidents.
Safety advocates want the U.S. federal government to develop telematics safety standards because they believe auto makers’ self-imposed guidelines are not stringent enough. They point out that safety groups did not participate in developing the rules.
They also doubt a serious safety push will be made due to the lucrative nature of the automotive telematics business, evidenced by the devices’ growing presence on vehicles. Some 630,000 vehicles sold in 2000, about 5%, had telematics devices. Revenues totaled $380 million in 2000 and are expected to rise to $5 billion-$8 billion in the next three to five years, says Rob Strassburger, AAM’s vice president for vehicle safety.
“We see this as a way for the auto industry to protect a growing profit center from government regulation,” says Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety.
Some of the guidelines, submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. this week, call for technologies that do not block a driver’s view or cause a driver to look away from the road for lengthy periods of time. One of the guidelines, which calls for drivers to have one hand on the steering wheel at all times, rankles Judith Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, who says drivers should always keep two hands on the wheel.
NHTSA has not yet decided if it will regulate telematics.