According to AAA, distracted driving crashes are now a national epidemic[1]. It’s estimated that distracted driving is a leading contributor to road deaths (comparable to or even worse than speeding and drunk driving) and injuries in the United States. Distracted driving is estimated to contribute to 25%-30% of fatal crashes[2]. More concerning, there is evidence that official crash data sources generally under-estimate the prevalence of the problem because of barriers in collecting complete data[3].

While these numbers are staggering, what’s more concerning is how the potential for distractions in vehicles is increasing and coming from multiple sources. First on the list is the stalwart cell phone: the world at your fingertips may mean eyes off the road. Consumers’ addiction to them even has a name: “nomophobia,” or the fear of being without a mobile device.[4]

Compounding that is the introduction of new age technology systems embedded throughout vehicle interiors. While automakers strive to create systems dedicated to managing safety, such as via enhanced voice capabilities and ADAS systems, those solutions are competing with countless other distraction-infusing technologies (music, navigation, integrated messaging, razzle-dazzle instrumentation and displays, video, apps, etc.).

The latest example is the digital interfaces of future Volvo vehicles will be powered by Epic Games. The first application of that relationship will be the Driver Information Module (DIM) that provides drivers with relevant information and infotainment features[5]. The partnership makes sense given each company’s expertise in their fields and we assume that the new DIM will be much more engaging given how engaging the best video games are.

Greater engagement is exactly why it becomes even more important to manage the distraction risk. The Epic/Volvo DIM is one recent example of the evolution of interface engagement but is not to be singled out as this is an emerging trend across many automakers. But the risk that engagement can create is across all manufacturers and all vehicles and all interfaces as they seek to one-up each other.

It comes down to a key conflict: finding the right balance between cleanly and safely informing drivers versus distracting them. The conflict is driven by a battle for attention: each system wants to be as engaging as possible on its own so that it wins the prize of most driver attention. But this conflict is not new: think about the first in-vehicle navigation systems.

The difference today is that technology is faster, more powerful, more diverse…and more engaging. And for safety systems specifically, it may end up being a David and Goliath scenario with safety-oriented systems battling to maintain drivers’ lives versus the Goliath of distractions.

So what does this all mean? It means as the use and success of technology in new vehicles advances, the research needed to assess and optimize how consumers interact with this technology–related to safety and everything else–mandates a new way of doing research that is faster, multi-dimensional and more illustrative.

That’s where Pulse Labs ICCTM (In-Car Camera) solution comes in. Pulse ICC captures real people in real vehicles doing real things in the real world. Married to that is voice and consumer ratings. One of the applications of ICCTM is to detect when drivers are distracted (eye tracking and gaze patterns). Those data are paired with metrics on what the driver is doing (i.e. using cellphone, eating, engaging infotainment system). ICC results are processed and categorized using Pulse Labs’ proprietary AI capabilities, and accessible on demand via our online Power PortalTM. The combination of those provides rich insights to best reduce distracted driving risks.

Pulse lives and breathes human factors insights. Our technology, OEM, supplier, regulatory, university and government partners have all seen the results in action. You should, too, because no one wants a poor interface and optimizing safety is paramount to help address this ongoing distraction epidemic.
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(2) National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2019). Driver Electronic Device Use in 2018, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

(3) Robertson, R. D., Bowman, K. & Charles, J.-M. (2015). Distracted driving in Canada: Making progress, taking action. Traffic Injury Research Foundation, Ottawa, ON.