Community Transportation Association of America
Notation 8403: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notice of proposed federal guidelines, "Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices" (proposed guidelines), which was published at 77 Federal Register 11200 (February 24, 2012). The nonbinding, voluntary guidelines represent one component of NHTSA's Driver Distraction Program, and are a useful step toward addressing the problem of driver distraction. Specifically, NHTSA is proposing a long-term, phased approach, through the issuance of guidelines to address the distraction potential of in-vehicle and portable electronic devices (PED). This initial proposal only addresses guidelines for the first of three planned phases and concerns the visual-manual interface of devices installed in vehicles as original equipment. The second phase will include PEDs and aftermarket devices, and the third phase will expand the guidelines to include auditory-vocal interfaces.
The NTSB supports NHTSA's efforts to promote attentive driving but is concerned about the rapid migration of potentially distracting navigation, communications, and information and entertainment systems into vehicles. Issuing guidelines is one important step of many necessary to ensure appropriate safety oversight of the design and use of in-vehicle systems, aftermarket devices, and PEDs-which can distract drivers from the critical task of safely operating a motor vehicle.
The following are suggestions for NHTSA to maximize the effectiveness of these guidelines. They discuss NHTSA's underemphasis of the cognitive component of operating in-vehicle information systems, the need to record data about in-vehicle communication system use in the event of crashes, the importance of moving quickly toward requiring collision avoidance technologies on all vehicles, and the need to evaluate in-vehicle technologies in large commercial vehicles.
On March 27, 2012, the NTSB hosted a forum on Attentive Driving: Countermeasures for Distraction that examined countermeasures to mitigate distracted driving behaviors. Forum panelists discussed the findings of distracted driver research, distracted driving laws and enforcement, changing attitudes and behaviors through education and outreach, and technology and design countermeasures. The forum was the culmination of a decade of accident investigations involving distractions in all modes of transportation. The following paragraphs summarize NTSB highway investigations that have resulted in recommendations to reduce driver-distraction-related accidents and fatalities.
On August 5, 2010, a highway accident occurred in Gray Summit, Missouri, I in which a pickup truck, whose driver was engaged in texting, rear-ended the back of a tractor and set off a series of collisions that killed two people. On December 13, 2011, as a result of its investigation of the accident, the NTSB called on the 50 states and the District of Columbia to ban the nonemergency use of PEDs while driving (other than those devices designed to support the driving task) for all drivers. The safety recommendation also urged the use of targeted education and enforcement campaigns to support these bans.
Also in 2010, near Munfordville, Kentucky,2 a truck-tractor in combination with a 53-foot-Iong trailer left its lane, crossed the median, and collided with a IS-passenger van, resulting in 11 fatalities. The truck driver failed to maintain control of his vehicle because he was distracted by use of his cell phone. As a result of this and previous investigations, the NTSB issued a recommendation that all holders of commercial driver's licenses (CDL) be prohibited from using both hand-held and hands-free cell phones while operating a commercial vehicle, except in emergencies.
In 2004, an experienced motorcoach driver failed to move to the center lane and struck the underside of an arched stone bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Alexandria, Virginia. Eleven of the 27 high school students on the bus were injured. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the bus driver's failure to notice and respond to posted low-clearance warning signs and to the bridge itself due to cognitive distraction resulting from a hands-free cell phone conversation while driving. The NTSB issued a recommendation that the 50 states and the District of Columbia ban cell phone use by commercial drivers with school bus or passenger endorsements, except in emergencies.
In 2002, a novice driver, distracted by a cell phone conversation, crossed the highway median near Largo, Maryland, flipped over, and landed on a minivan, killing five persons. As a result of this investigation, the NTSB issued a recommendation that the 50 states and the District of Columbia prohibit novice drivers from using interactive wireless communication devices while driving.
Across all modes of transportation, the NTSB has issued 18 recommendations calling for the prohibition of PED use by aviators, railroaders, mariners, young drivers, and bus and truck drivers. Although the NTSB has not made any specific recommendations on driver distraction related to in-vehicle navigation, communications, or information and entertainment systems, the emergence of new in-vehicle technologies not related to the driving task is of significant concern and should be closely monitored to detect potential adverse effects upon driving performance.
Maximizing the Effectiveness of Voluntary Guidelines
NHTSA provides a detailed explanation of why it is proposing voluntary guidelines rather than mandatory Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. The NTSB appreciates that the rapid pace of technology evolution cam10t be fully addressed with a static rule. One advantage of guidelines over safety standards is that they present the opportunity to set performance criteria above a minimum acceptable level and do so more quickly than standards would, given the time required for rulemaking. The proposed guidelines are somewhat stronger than current industry guidelines, but NHTSA should set the safety bar even higher. The NTSB urges NHTSA to go beyond its stated expectation of "interfaces that do not exceed a reasonable level of complexity for visual-manual secondary tasks" and strive for more than "discouraging the introduction of egregiously distracting non-driving tasks performed using integrated devices." Instead, NHTSA should be promoting integrated devices that provide a safety benefit, or that at least do not increase the risk in any measureable way.
In the absence of a regulatory requirement for in-vehicle information system design, consumers need a method to determine whether a vehicle has a safe design, and manufacturers need incentives to demonstrate that they are meeting or exceeding the guidelines. One such mechanism would be to create a safety marketplace in which automakers compete to provide safer vehicles that meet or exceed the proposed guidelines, as NHTSA has been doing for more than three decades with its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) five-star safety rating system. Beginning with model year 2011, NHTSA has provided more information about vehicles, indicating whether rated vehicles are equipped with electronic stability control, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning systems. As soon as the proposed Driver Distraction Guidelines are adopted, NHTSA should immediately add to its NCAP information a notice of whether a new car complies with the guidelines and also note those vehicles that do not comply.
As NHTSA develops a better understanding of driver distraction and the means to evaluate the effects of in-vehicle systems on driving safety, it should consider developing a more refined rating system akin to NCAP's crashworthiness rating system that considers in-vehicle information systems. Furthermore, NHTSA's experience with evaluating in-vehicle information systems for the purpose of ratings will improve its ability to determine the effectiveness and sufficiency of the guidelines.
Phased Approach to Driver Distraction Guidelines
NHTSA intends to release the guidelines in three phases. The first phase will explore the visual-manual interfaces of devices installed in vehicles. The second phase will include portable and aftermarket devices, and the third phase will include auditory-vocal interfaces. Although it is understood that NHTSA intends to develop guidelines for aftermarket and PED interfaces immediately following completion of the first phase, it is essential to minimize the delay between phases to avoid (1) migration to systems that are not designed for the driving environment and (2) reliance on voice-based in-vehicle systems with flawed designs that may increase the cognitive distraction of drivers.
Specifically, the NTSB is concerned that drivers may increase their use of PEDs due to the restrictions being placed on in-vehicle systems in phase one. Although general usability is a strong consideration in the design of some PEDs, the safety of their use as a secondary task to driving is not a factor in their design. Additionally, automotive and device manufacturers are adding greater connectivity for drivers, and in-vehicle information systems increasingly rely on voice activation. A release of guidelines in 2014 will not address nl0del year 2015 vehicles, further exacerbating the problem that first-generation auditory-vocal interfaces will be in widespread use in on-road vehicles without the benefit of design guidelines. Given the current deployment of in-vehicle computing with voice commands and synthetic speech, NHTSA needs to expedite the roll out of phases two and three.
Underemphasis on Cognitive Distraction
The NTSB is concerned that the NHTSA Driver Distraction Program is based on the assumption that the primary risk associated with in-vehicle PED use by drivers is visual-manual interaction. It is essential to understand the cognitive demands associated with secondary tasks, particularly auditory-vocal communication tasks, in the context of in-vehicle information and communication devices.
As evidenced by the work of panelists attending the recent NTSB forum on countermeasures to distraction, numerous studies have shown that driver distraction occurs during both handheld and hands-free cell phone conversations. 8 NHTSA acknowledges that there is a large amount of research on the topic of driver distraction, yet the guidelines appear to focus on naturalistic driving studies.
Particularly, this notice refers to naturalistic driving research that reports that engaging in hands-free phone conversations while driving is safe and provides a protective effect. This finding, from the commercial vehicle naturalistic study, is but one piece of an overall body of research and should be considered within the context of its limitations. Although naturalistic studies provide extremely strong evidence for distraction involving driver behaviors such as visual or manual activities, naturalistic studies, given their dependence on video data, cannot fully assess the cognitive demands associated with hands-free secondary tasks.
The measurement of cognitive distraction that does not result in drivers taking their eyes off the road is essential. Both driver performance and brain activity should be assessed to better understand cognitive load. The NTSB findings from its investigation of the 2004 Alexandria, Virginia, motorcoach accident involving the driver's use of a hands-free cell phone are consistent with research showing that drivers conversing on a cell phone-whether handheld or hands-free-are cognitively distracted from the driving task.
Need for Improved Event Data
The NTSB agrees with NHTSA that efforts are needed to improve the validity and reliability of distracted driving data and believes that such data are necessary both to track the magnitude of distracted driving as a risk factor in accidents and to assess the efficacy of countermeasures. In its notice, NHTSA explains that identifying specific distracting activities and behaviors has presented challenges, partly because police reports may list "other distraction" or "distraction unknown" rather than identifying a specific distraction source, and partly because police may not have enough information to recognize the contribution of distraction to an accident. The NTSB supports NHTSA's ongoing modifications to the Model Minimal Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC), which may better capture and classify crashes related to distraction. The proposed 4th edition of the MMUCC currently does not have a specific code to distinguish in-vehicle electronics from PEDs.
As integrated devices for navigation, communication, and information and entertainment continue to proliferate in the vehicle fleet, it is critical for NHTSA and others, such as the NTSB and law enforcement, to be able to determine whether drivers were using such systems immediately before or during a crash. Consequently, NHTSA should require manufacturers to include a recording capability in their in-vehicle and integrated systems, such as exists in some vehicles already on the market, to facilitate accident investigation and safety research. NHTSA recognized the value of recording vehicle data in its 2006 rulemaking on vehicle event data recorders (EDR) when it said, "EDR data can provide information to enhance our understanding of crash events and safety system performance, thereby potentially contributing to safer vehicle designs and more effective safety regulations.
Crash Avoidance Technologies
The proposed guidelines also cite the April 2010 "Overview of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Driver Distraction Program," which summarized steps that NHTSA intends to take "to help eliminate crashes attributable to driver distraction." One of the four initiatives discussed in the program involves keeping drivers safe through the introduction of crash warning or crash avoidance technologies. The NTSB strongly agrees that such systems can prevent or mitigate accidents; and, for more than a decade, we have made recommendations advocating technological solutions to reduce or mitigate collisions for both passenger and commercial vehicles. A large body of evidence now shows that collision warning, lane departure warning, and automatic braking systems are effective, based on research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, automobile manufacturers, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and other organizations. These systems address driver inattentiveness from all potential sources of distraction, including PEDs.
Scope of Guidelines
According to the notice, because NHTSA's research focus to date has been on light vehicles, the proposed guidelines are limited to passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, and trucks and buses with a gross vehicle weight rating of not more than 10,000 pounds.
However, considering the significance of large commercial vehicles in overall crash and fatality rates, and given the increasing availability and use of electronic logs, global positioning system, and other potentially distracting systems in these vehicles, the NTSB encourages NHTSA, with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, to monitor the introduction of in-vehicle technology and aftermarket technology into medium trucks, heavy trucks, and buses, including motorcoaches, and to conduct research as appropriate.
The NTSB is pleased that NHTSA is moving forward with providing visual-manual guidance to manufacturers, but we view this phased approach as a limited effort, given the varied nature of driver distraction and new car market indications of future in-vehicle information system designs. The NTSB has concerns about the voluntary nature of the guidelines and believes that NHTSA's Distracted Driver Program underemphasizes the role of cognitive distraction.
The NTSB also has made safety recommendations concerning crash avoidance technology. We are encouraged to see that NHTSA has included standards for these systems in the NCAP program that, in tum, provide an incentive for vehicle manufacturers to incorporate these technologies in new vehicles. We continue to believe that much could be gained by acquiring data on the use of in-vehicle systems prior to accidents, and we are interested in learning more about NHTSA's plans for evaluating the effects of in-vehicle, aftermarket, and portable systems in all vehicles.
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the proposed guidelines.