My wife and I have been shopping for a house in the Bay Area for the better part of a month (if you're selling in Oakland, hit me up) and, as you'd imagine, that means entering a lot of addresses into a lot of different navigation systems. Since I've got the directional ability of a brain-damaged opossum, the proliferation of in-car GPS (and mobile map apps) has moved beyond a convenience to an absolute necessity.

But there's a problem..

About half the vehicles block out destination entry while the car's in motion – a serious PITA when you're bouncing from one fixer-upper to the next..

Now we're fully aware that voice control is the future and the public shouldn't be fiddling with touchscreens and all-in-one knobs while driving through a school zone, but what if you've got a perfectly capable passenger sitting in the seat next to you?.

There's a simple solution..

Continue reading Opinion: Automakers, let my wife use the nav

Since 1998, the Feds have required passenger-side airbags, and for the better part of a decade, one of the requirements is a weight sensor that detects if a person sitting in the seat is within the "5th percentile female" – essentially coming in above 100 pounds (give or take). It's designed as a safety measure so if a child or infant is in the passenger seat when the airbag goes boom, they won't be injured.

So why not use that sensor for one more thing?

So why not use that sensor for one more thing?
By co-opting the sensor to determine if there's an occupant in the passenger seat, automakers could assume that a capable person – not the driver – can operate the navigation and infotainment systems while the vehicle is in motion.

We've perused the airbag law and can't find any verbiage prohibiting automakers from doing just that, so we reached out to a few to see what – if any – reasons they had for not implementing such a system. The responses were predictably cryptic, but the rationale was sound: How do you prove there's a person and not a 100-pound bag of sand (or an Autoblogger's overstuffed laptop bag) in the passenger seat?

Scott Geisler, General Motors' technical expert on driver workload and wireless safety, was kind enough to humor us and our hairbrained idea, but as you'd expect, it comes down to proof. "Could that sensor be used to signal something? Yeah, potentially. But there are some other things that preclude doing it as readily as one might think," Geisler told us. "Because the sensor is indicating the presence of a passenger, you know nothing else that is useful in trying to assess the engagement with the center stack system. You don't know who's engaged."

This same sentiment was echoed by a spokesperson from Nissan who pointed out that there's been a long-standing gentlemen's agreement in Japan to lock out all navigation functionality while the vehicle is in motion, though not everyone has signed on to this agreement (thanks, Honda). That same unspoken arrangement has filtered onto our shores, and isn't just limited to most Japanese vehicles, but some domestic and European marques, as well.

There's a palpable concern on the part of automakers that the Feds are going to step in to legislate against driver distraction.
One point that was brought up in nearly every conversation was the lack of federal regulation for navigation and infotainment systems. And the automakers want to keep it that way. With hands-free mobile phone requirements being passed in several states and vehicles becoming increasingly connected, there's a palpable concern on the part of automakers that the Feds are going to step in to legislate against driver distraction. Rather than wait for that to happen on the state or federal level, automakers are trying to preemptively address lawmakers' concerns and avoid sweeping legislation.

"We're trying to make this a moot point." Geisler says. "We have ways to move around this lock-out situation," citing OnStar's ability to send the destination through either a server or the call center with the push of a button or two.

Unfortunately, everyone isn't driving an OnStar-equipped vehicle or packing the latest voice-recognition technology (à la Ford SYNC). But the continued development and expansion of these systems – both on the OEM and aftermarket sides – means inputting a destination on-the-go is going to get remarkably easier in the near future. And it can't come soon enough.


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  • 63 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Alexandre D
      • 3 Years Ago
      Automakers should think of using the technology like in the Range Rover where the passenger sees the DVD movie while the driver sees the navigation. Why don't they adapt it so as if the passenger can see the menus and other tactile options while the driver only sees the route and directions...
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Alexandre D
        [blocked]
      Kumar
      • 3 Years Ago
      You'd think automakers would do everything possible to make it an easier decision to drop tons of cash on a fixed GPS system instead of using your phone or buying a portable GPS.
      Kuro Houou
      • 3 Years Ago
      Blocking use to the NAV is the stupidest idea I think auto makers could do. And Subaru's are the worst and taking it to the extreme. Their nav system isn't the only thing blocked during motion, but you can't control the ipod either through the nav. What does this mean, you have to go down and fiddle around with your little ipod or iphone looking down even further causing more distraction. If auto makers were smart they would find a better way and better user interface to keep users focused on the road. Maybe use a HUD? Making people pull over in the middle of a highway to change their nav setting or artist or playlist is by far the stupidest thing I have ever heard of. The fact that all the cars passing by will then turn to look at why a car pulled over by turn causing slow downs and possibly accidents. I don't know what Subaru or other car makers were thinking but I could think of a lot of things that should be done to the people that thought up those idiotic ideas!!
      01nb
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just got a Sportwagen with factory nav. I was SHOCKED to see that it allows use while in motion. In my other car, I sidestepped the nanny on the Pioneer AVIC unit. It's so annoying when you are going places and are locked out of the system. Why not just lock it if no passenger is present (using the airbag sensor)?
      roadkill
      • 3 Years Ago
      Toyota I hope you are listening - that is why I didn't buy another Toyota because of the crap Navigation with lockout. There is not a law requiring this in the US, this is a case of a car company thinking they know better, my last Honda didn't lock me out when moving, my BMW doesn't, so it isn't illegal. How about not being my Mom and let me make decisions, or use some dual view screen tech so the passenger can see and enter and the driver can't - anything would be better, especially since voice commands (especially here in NE with weird pronounciations) just don't work
        Hernan
        • 3 Years Ago
        @roadkill
        Agree. My Audi gives a warning if you're on the move when you try to enter something, click OK and you're done. That way they can disclaim liability, and you can do whatever you want.
      J W
      • 3 Years Ago
      Make the display motorized. Flip a button to "passenger" and the screen moves out and angles toward the passenger seat. Now enable all the functions of the navigation. With the display at a great enough angle, it would be impossible to drive and control the functions at the same time.
      galaxiesun
      • 3 Years Ago
      I totally agree with the author, but unfortunately our society is going the way of the "Nanny State." This culture is reaching a point of hysteria when it comes to "protecting citizens from themselves." It's beyond absurd and this is a perfect example.
        Arli
        • 3 Years Ago
        @galaxiesun
        It's not about protecting idiots from themselves (notice how I didn't say citizens?), it's about protecting the others sharing the road with the idiot. This means other car drivers, or, even worse, motorcyclists/cyclists. Too many times I've seen people on the phone not giving a damn of the others in their road cause they're so safe in their little cage. It's time we tell these idiots they either put their attention on the road or stop driving in general because they're toying with other people's lives.
        4 String
        • 3 Years Ago
        @galaxiesun
        Well, to be fair, the roads are increasingly lined with morons every day. Although I do agree and wholeheartedly support the author's opinion in regards to utilizing that right hand sensor.
        iwantatransam
        • 3 Years Ago
        @galaxiesun
        I'm sure that the "nanny-state" has something to do with it, but I've always thought it was more likely due to the fact that some dumb ass will kill him/herself by running into the back of a semi while trying to type in their next destination and the family will sue.
      squngy
      • 3 Years Ago
      A better idea than the seat sensor would be a steering wheel, which can sense if a person is holding it with both hands. That way it would be wary impractical to cheat the sensor (fake hand?), and since people don't have 3 hands anyone fiddling with the controls at that point isn't the person driving. And yes making such a steering wheel should be possible with current technology.
        anonymous guy
        • 3 Years Ago
        @squngy
        Current technology. I see what you did there.
        m
        • 3 Years Ago
        @squngy
        So that my wife can't change tracks while I'm changing gears? Or is she supposed to handle the gear changes from over there too?
      Executorr485
      • 3 Years Ago
      I've had this same complaint for a couple of years now. I was especially upset before they (Lexus) implemented the ability to input destinations through voice. While the voice control is handy, it also has some issues with accents and the like. The frustration this causes can lead to enraged drivers who are now mad at the GPS and are less focused on the road. Hopefully automakers will implement passenger detection systems for the nav and allow passengers to input locations while on the move, but unfortunately I dont see that coming any time soon, if ever. :(
      fstock5dolla
      • 3 Years Ago
      Completely agree with this article. Just another example of scared automobile manufacturers. Didn't Jaguar create a display screen so the passenger could view something different than the driver? Wouldn't this work for GPS?? So auto manufacturers would rather the driver use a garmin device or a smart phone? or place the car in park at stop lights and get rear ended once the light turns green and they haven't finished looking up directions. Where there's a will there's a way. And right now there is no will...sad.
        Chris
        • 3 Years Ago
        @fstock5dolla
        They are scared because people like to sue them for millions of dollars.
        signal30
        • 3 Years Ago
        @fstock5dolla
        i thought that the high-end MBs have a screen that does in fact show different view to driver and passenger. passenger can watch a movie at the same time driver sees map (or climate) info while driving. add passenger nav use to that.
      daewootech
      • 3 Years Ago
      amen, this is bullcrap, so i have to spend 15 minutes getting an address onto the shitty nav that cost $5000 extra and is worse than a tom tom just to go 5-15 minutes away? half the time my infiniti doesn't even have the store or address im looking for. sure its no problem for me since i know the San Jose area inside out, but my wife needs help sometimes and i cant have her sitting in her car for 30 minutes trying to figure out how to setup up profiles and bookmarks that get lost when a phone gets paired to the car.
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