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ITU focuses on road safety

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Technology-related driver distractions which claim more than 1.2 million lives in road crashes each year, are fuelled by automakers, service providers and hi-tech companies.

This is according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which says these groups are pushing to bring other potentially distracting services and gadgets, including Internet access, e-mail, 3D maps and high-definition video, to the front seat.

“These and other in-vehicle information and communication services are delivered via original equipment manufacturer components, automotive aftermarket devices (personal navigation devices) and - rapidly gaining market share - smartphones,” the ITU says.

The union adds that mobile broadband enables drivers and passengers to benefit from innovative applications and location-based services. But, used at the wheel, smartphones contribute to inattention.

In efforts to combat this problem, the organisation released a Technology Watch Report last week. It provides an overview of technology-caused driver distraction, and surveys standards, guidelines and initiatives aiming to make the use of in-vehicle ICT systems less distracting.

According to the ITU, research has shown that texting, making calls, and other use of in-vehicle information and communication systems while driving is a serious source of driver distraction and increases the risk of accidents.

“Dialling a handheld device increases a driver's chance of being involved in a vehicle crash three times, and talking while driving increases the crash risk 1.3 times,” it points out. When composing or reading text messages, drivers spend up to 400% more time with their eyes off the road than they do when not texting, the ITU says.

The report also recommends steps to better address the issue of driver distraction.

“By implementing standardised human-machine interfaces in devices and applications, manufacturers can make device use less distracting, it points out.

“Advanced speech recognition and text-to-speech features, and ensured quality of service of in-vehicle hands-free systems may minimise driver distraction.”

According to the organisation, future safety technologies may temporarily or permanently disable certain features of ICT used by the driver, based on constantly updated status information provided by sensors inside and outside the vehicle.

It says these and other approaches to reduce technology-based driver distraction and increase road safety are discussed in a number of standardisation bodies, including the ITU-T (the union's standardisation arm) and the International Organisation for Standardisation.

Worldwide, safety and health advocates are concerned about driver distraction, particularly that caused by the use of mobile phones, and consequently more than 40 countries restrict or prohibit the use of handheld phones while driving.

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