Automakers, let my wife use the nav

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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