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Mercedes responds to Facebook fears

Thursday 19th January 2012

Mercedes has responded to safety concerns raised following the news item we published on 12 January about the new Facebook app and COMAND system they will be installing in their vehicle range.

The news item provoked a number of posts from readers concerned about the potential for driver distraction, and we contacted Mercedes Benz and invited them to provide further comment and/or explanation.

Rob Halloway, PR manager Mercedes-Benz Cars and Commercial Vehicles, says he wants “to reassure your members about the future use of social media platforms in Mercedes-Benz cars, and to outline exactly how we’re working to ensure that these systems are very safe, and do not distract drivers.”

The full information provided by Mr Halloway is as follows:

In a nutshell
Put basically, drivers won’t be able to browse and use social media as we know it whilst driving. These systems have been thoroughly tested, adhere to global best-practice guidelines, and are as simple to use as tuning the radio.

The forthcoming Facebook app will only be able to send information about the vehicle, such as its current location or navigation system destination, to the social media platform – not allowing the driver to give status updates, browse photos or anything like that whilst driving.

Safety is our top priority at Mercedes-Benz.  In the same way as our systems only allow films to run on the vehicle display screen when the vehicle is stationary, so this will also be the case when surfing the internet.

In more detail
Of course our customers must also be able to use all the services that they need while on the move, such as the radio, telephone or navigation system, with complete safety.

One approach used here - apart from very clearly structured and user-friendly menus - is that of voice-based controls – called Linguatronic in Mercedes-Benz cars.  Similarly, it will be possible for emails or text messages to be read out aloud by the car.

Of course all the internet services that have been available since March 2011 will be fully integrated into the control logic of the COMAND system and will confirm with all relevant guidelines, such as those of the AAM (Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers).

I’m sure you’re aware of the AAM, but I’ve summarised some information for your members:

The AAM Guidelines in depth
The AAM Guidelines are voluntary guidelines/best practices defined by and for the automotive industry with regard to future telematics systems (including mobile phones, navigation systems and internet links).

Their creation was called for by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US in 2000, in light of concern over the increasing use of mobile phones and other distracting electronic devices by drivers at the wheel.  The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) agreed to develop voluntary guidelines/best practices, which were subsequently published in 2003.

The AAM Guidelines are based in principle on the recommendations for safe and efficient information and communications systems in vehicles published by the European Commission in 1999. The AAM Guidelines also reflect other important documentation, e.g. ISO standards.

As a general rule, the OEMS have chosen to take the pragmatic and cost-efficient approach of adhering to the most conservative/comprehensive published guidelines (AAM and JAMA) in addition, for example, to the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards), the SAE Recommended Practices and ISO standards, in order to ensure full coverage of the global market.

The AAM Guidelines comprise 24 principles, divided into 5 groups: 1) installation, 2) information presentation, 3) interaction with displays/controls, 4) system behaviour, and 5) information about the system.

For each principle, there are recommendations on criteria and verification procedure, e.g:

“Principle 2.1: systems with visual displays should be designed such that the driver can complete the desired task with sequential glances that are brief enough not to adversely affect driving.

“Criterion: the influence of the secondary task on driving performance shall not be greater than that of the reference task (tuning the radio)

“Verification procedure: on roads, on a test track or in a driving simulator.

Later this year, Facebook, Google™ Street View and Panoramio by Google™ will become available for COMAND Online. But, as already mentioned, the Facebook app will only be able to send information about the vehicle, such as its current location or navigation system destination, to the social media platform – not giving status updates or browsing photos whilst driving.

Mr Halloway concluded: “in the same way as our systems only allow films to run on the vehicle display screen when the vehicle is stationary, so this will also be the case when surfing the internet.

“I hope this detailed explanation reassures you of the responsible way in which Mercedes-Benz is ensuring its cars are modern, connected – and, crucially, remain safe places for drivers, occupants and other road users.”

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I think it is also worth noting that both BMW and Audi (among others) are introducing similar systems to 2013 models, although I haven't been able to determine whether their systems also include social networking apps?

I would also like to pick up on the point made by Charles that these companies appear to measure the effects of interfacing with their systems against tuning the radio - which is deemed acceptable according to the AAM guidelines. Maybe as road safety professionals we should be lobbying for these guidelines to be changed rather than pick up on each new technology as it, inevitably, develops?
Matt, Cambs

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I’m not saying that Rob Halloway, PR manager Mercedes-Benz Cars and Commercial Vehicles, was intentionally disingenuous with his statement to Road Safety GB but I feel that his statement is misleading.

“Put basically, drivers won’t be able to browse and use social media as we know it whilst driving. These systems have been thoroughly tested, adhere to global best-practice guidelines, and are as simple to use as tuning the radio”.

The first point I would make here is that Mr Halloway, on behalf of Mercedes Benz, appears to be saying that it is acceptable practice to tune your radio station while driving. I’m sure RSOs and other road safety organisations would not condone this distracting practice.

The second point is that Mr Halloway, purposefully or not, omitted to inform Road Safety GB and its readers that in fact you can send preprogramed messages to your Facebook friends while driving. For example, Reshid Shariff Head of Product Strategy for Mercedes Benz, explains in the attached video link that the system has and I QUOTE “a selection of pre-sets, these pre-sets allow you while driving to send messages out there and its tied to the navigation system so that way you can say, I’m on my way to the wind casino hotel, I’ll be there in five minutes and that’s with one click of a button”

For those interested, here’s the video link
http://www.5min.com/Video/Mercedes-Benz-Mbrace-2-Cloud-Based-Service-517245964

It is also unclear when programming Google maps whilst parked, if when the car's in drive whether or not Google disengages - for one Mercedes Benz instructional video I looked at appeared to indicate that with the MBrace 2 you can view while driving live streaming on Google satellite guiding you to your destination in picture view.

I apologise if I have been somewhat obsessive over this new innovation, but unless the road safety fraternity and the legislators act now on this issue it will be too late to stop the advancement of further telematics based on social networking entertainment.
Charles Dunn RoadDriver.co.uk

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