Infotainment systems put apps at drivers’ fingertips. At the Driver Workload Lab, we’re ensuring they can use these systems safely.
Driver distraction is a serious challenge to manage as vehicle connectivity grows more pervasive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that distracted driving kills nine people and injures more than a thousand on a daily basis. To afford our customers the benefits of connectivity in the safest possible manner, we design and test GM infotainment systems according to the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers Guidelines, which were developed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road. These principles include guidelines as to how infotainment systems are installed, how the information is presented on the screens, the ways in which drivers interact with the display and controls, and which features are available or unavailable while the vehicle is moving.
To ensure our infotainment systems meet these guidelines, we use the Driver Workload Lab at the Milford Proving Ground to test and measure the behaviors of test subjects as they interact with our vehicles’ infotainment systems. These test subjects use a simulator designed to replicate certain tasks drivers can perform in our vehicles. For example, the engineers in the lab may have the subjects make a phone call using their phone book, or interact with the new Marketplace platform, all while simulating normal driving tasks such as maintaining their speed and monitoring other drivers on the road.
Engineers, statisticians and human factors experts are positioned in another part of the lab to observe and collect data that will be used in the next phases of the design and refinement of these systems. The team looks at factors such as the size of the text on the screen, the size and placement of the controls and how many steps it takes to complete a task when designing our infotainment systems. The Driver Workload Lab aims to deliver customer-desired features in a curated, bounded and driver-conscious manner.
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GM Senior Vice President of Global Purchasing Steve Kiefer’s life turned upside down on Sept. 19, 2016, when his son Mitchel was killed by a distracted driver. The motorist crashed into the rear of Mitchel’s car, sending it across a narrow interstate median and into oncoming traffic, where it then collided with an oncoming vehicle, instantly killing the 18-year-old.
After Mitchel’s death, Steve established a personal foundation, The Kiefer Foundation, to help improve highway safety and end distracted driving, with the hope of preventing future tragedies. The Foundation and the State of Michigan announced a joint investment to pay for a new metal barrier on the stretch of I-96 where Mitchel was killed. GM CEO Mary Barra spoke at an event announcing the donation, commending the partnership for its potential to make our roads safer and to save lives.