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Drivers, regulators clash over use of navigation systems in vehicles

November 22, 2010

Consumers seeking to further their use of video navigation systems while driving stand opposed to federal studies that indicate such use increases driver distraction. Federal safety officials believe it is "ill-advised" to make the systems easier for drivers to use while moving.

About half of the navigation systems allow drivers or passengers to manipulate them while moving, creating a safety hazard, critics say. General Motors, worried about that, programs its systems to refuse inputs once the vehicle starts moving. "We took the conservative route," said Jim Rillings, research fellow at GM Research and Design.

But drivers get frustrated if they can’t enter or alter route requests on the move,  a J.D. Power & Associates study found. And Jeremy Bowler of J.D. Power said regulators overstate the danger by failing to note that people get less distracted as they become familiar with the systems.

Automakers, hurting for profits on new-vehicle sales, are reluctant to slow the explosive growth of profitmaking navigation. About 60 models offer navigation, up from seven models in 1998. Once a luxury option, the systems now are in mainstream cars like the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.

The J.D. Power survey of 5,000 drivers who own cars with navigation systems shows fewer than 3 percent of them believe the systems are distracting.

A complaint on file at the NHTSA states a woman was severely injured when a man staring at a navigation system in his rental car ran a red light and struck her vehicle. The man was killed.