LAKE ORION, MI – Voluntary guidelines proposed in April by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. call for more stringent controls on potentially distracting features of in-vehicle infotainment systems.

But an official with one telematics firm thinks those rules, and some already on the books, may have the effect of creating more dangerous behavior behind the wheel.

“I’m not going to say distracted-driver guidelines are a bad idea,” says Kip Dondlinger, product manager for Garmin Automotive. “(But the) answer is not to just take this stuff away from the dashboard, because people are just going to keep…using their smartphone. And you're never going to stop that.”

Dondlinger is referring to NHTSA’s request that auto makers voluntarily block certain information from being viewable not only while a car is in motion, but also while at rest.

“One of the areas I disagree with NHTSA is that they want (certain features) locked out unless you are stopped and have the transmission in park,” he tells reporters at a recent Garmin technology showcase here.

“I think there should be some in-between point where some of this stuff is accessible to you, (such as) while you're stopped at a stoplight with just your foot on the brake.”

Dondlinger notes one feature of Garmin’s K2 concept telematics system, album artwork displayed on the gauge cluster while a song from the album is playing, would be discouraged under the new NHTSA rules.

“This album art? That's only allowed when you're giving people a list,” he says. “You can use album art to help them select from a list, but then it has to go away,” adding NHTSA deems artwork on constant display “too distracting.”

Dondlinger says with its telematics systems Garmin is striving to achieve “enough functionality,” a middle ground between giving drivers too much and too little.

With K2, which the Kansas-based company is pitching to OEMs for a ’15 or ’16 introduction, some information still is provided while the car is in drive, he notes.

For instance, drivers still can see the weather forecast, just not the entire weather map. This conciliatory mode was devised partially by following NHTSA guidelines but also by using Garmin’s in-house distracted-driving research.

To combat driver distraction, Garmin recently introduced a more natural way of giving directions on its higher-end portable GPS units, and expects the feature to filter down in a model year or two to its OEM-embedded products, such as Chrysler’s UConnect system.

Called Real Directions, the feature gives landmark-based guidance when possible.

“Instead of saying, ‘Turn right onto Main Street,’ it will say ‘Turn right at the traffic light,’ or ‘Turn right after Starbucks,’” Garmin Automotive spokesman Johan-Till Broer says.

“It’s the way I would give directions to you,” adds Dodlinger. “You don't have to know what 800 feet (244 m) is.”

With Real Directions, some footwork is required on Garmin’s part, as well as by data supplier Navteq, to make sure a sign for a business is easily viewable, and that the business hasn’t closed.

Broer says if a sign isn’t visible at a particular intersection, route guidance reverts back to traditional distance-based directions.

Another feature introduced on Garmin’s newest portable devices and bound for in-car use is the predictive myTrends, which learns a driver’s route.

Matt Munn, managing director-Garmin Automotive, says by predicting a driver’s behavior myTrends reduces the amount of time he must interact with the car, thereby lessening opportunities for distraction.

While it still has more market share on the portable-navigation side, Garmin is working to expand its presence in embedded products.

Besides its relationship with Chrysler, Garmin also is the telematics supplier to Suzuki and it recently inked a pact with Mercedes-Benz. Its products in models from those OEMs are available globally; India and Russia are two markets where Suzuki sells its SX4 model with Garmin’s embedded telematics system.

Roughly half of Garmin’s revenue comes from its automotive business, including embedded and portable devices. Garmin also supplies infotainment and navigation systems to the aviation, marine and motorcycle sectors, counting Bombardier, BMW, Harley-Davidson and Honda Gold Wing as customers.

Munn believes the future of in-car embedded telematics is the sharing of information between the center stack and gauge cluster, which is a feature of the K2 concept.

“Our vision in the OEM space is to really look at the driving experience with a more holistic approach,” he says.

“This is a good way to combat driver distraction,” adds Clint Steiner, director-sales and marketing, for Garmin’s automotive-OEM group. “You put the most meaningful things (on the gauge cluster) – phone call, next song, driving destination.”

Steiner says K2 marks the first time Garmin is using an operating system other than its own. He says the switch to an operating system by software firm QNX was necessary for the telematics company to become “a lot more scalable.”

Dondlinger says production versions of K2 will use Texas Instruments’ OMAP 5 processors rather than the more common OMAP 4, to handle the sophisticated graphics of the system.

Dondlinger demonstrates features of the latest K2 concept, installed in a Dodge Durango and first shown by invitation-only at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In the Durango, K2 uses a 10.4-in. (26-cm) center-stack capacitive touchscreen and a 12-in. (30-cm) gauge-cluster screen.

For some functions, such as local search, K2 requires a smartphone running the Garmin app be tethered to the car via Bluetooth, but navigation and GPS functionality is embedded.

K2 uses Nokia’s new city-model data that provides 3-dimensional views of cities, in some instances showing highly detailed buildings.

Other features include integration of all audio sources: CD, DVD, radio or off-board sources such as Pandora or Spotify; the ability to see contact information and photos from a user’s smartphone; and the integration of text messaging and email. For text messages, a K2 user receives a visual prompt of the message while tethered, and the contents of the message can be read to them.

More natural language for voice-recognition systems also is a K2 feature, as is the ability to configure K2’s in-car message center remotely.

K2’s center-stack screen has columns that represent a different tool.

“You can set it up to have whatever information is relevant to you, whether it’s calendar information that's coming off of your smartphone (or) email that's coming off of the smartphone,” Dondlinger says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com