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Public Roads - March/April 2001

Guest Editorial

Editor's Notes

Telematics, the integration of wireless communications and positioning systems technology, is big business. Whether sales of telematics equipment and services will more than septuple to reach $5.3 billion in 2005, as estimated by the Strategis Group, or whether the figure is $19 billion in 2005, as reported by Dain Rauscher Wessels, or $47.2 billion by 2010, as estimated by UBS Warburg, we're talking about a giant industry growing at a fantastic rate. And although these evolving technologies have a lot to offer, many people are wondering if these "advances" will quickly become too much of a good thing.

In-vehicle devices using telematics will soon provide a wide variety of services that seem like science fiction. Some services - navigation systems and location-based roadside assistance - are relatively well-known to most of us because we've seen the television advertising for systems such as General Motors' OnStar, even if only about 1 percent of the cars in this country are equipped with such devices. But the prospect of sending voice-activated e-mail, getting directions to the nearest Chinese restaurant, making reservations for the theater, playing electronic games, surfing the Internet, and accessing other entertainment options while driving is intriguing.

Many people are concerned about the potential of these in-vehicle products and services to distract drivers from their primary task of operating the vehicle. The Society of Automotive Engineers estimates that 25 percent to 52 percent of automobile crashes are caused by driver distraction. While a driver going 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour) is distracted for only one second, his/her vehicle will go 88 feet (27 meters) down the road (or off the road).

In 2000, 27 states considered legislation to ban or restrict the use of cellular telephones by drivers of a moving vehicle. And some of this new generation of in-vehicle devices would be arguably more distracting than a cell phone.

Thankfully, this potential problem is being studied. As part of the Department of Transportation's Intelligent Vehicle Initiative, the Federal Highway Administration and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are conducting a study. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has also been studying the issue. See the driver distraction portion of NHTSA's Web site( Industry is also examining the problem. Last fall, General Motors announced that the corporation was commencing a three-year, $10 million study of driver interaction with phones and other communications devices, and on Jan. 10, Ford Motor Co. announced plans to develop a $10 million driving simulation laboratory to evaluate the dangers of in-vehicle electronic communications and telematics systems.

Bob Bryant



Public Roads sincerely regrets two errors that occurred in the last issue. In "Preservation of Wetlands on the Federal-Aid Highway System," the last sentence of the first paragraph should have said, "And FHWA's part is to make sure that the federally funded highway program results in an overall net gain of wetlands."

In "Using the Computer and DYNA3D to Save Lives," a quote mistakenly attributed to Leonard Meczkowski, manager of the National Crash Analysis Center, says, " DYNA3D [results] should always be viewed with a skeptical eye and should always be compared with a prior crash test." This statement contradicts Meczkowski's position on this issue, which is that the results of a properly validated finite element analysis model can be used to predict the results of crash tests.