Wednesday, February 15, 2012

ITU-T: Developing standards to fight driver distraction

The telecommunication standardization sector of the International Telecommunications Union is poised to play a crucial role in tomorrow’s connected cars. And yet, many people in the auto industry have never heard of the ITU, or of its standardization sector, the ITU-T. So let’s start with a quick introduction.

The ITU is the United Nations agency that deals with telecommunications. More specifically, it is where governments come together to agree on international standards for Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

Currently, the ITU-T is developing recommendations for ICTs that interact with drivers — examples include networked-based navigation systems, web browsers, and mobile phones. These recommendations will apply to networks; to applications accessed by drivers; and to connected, nomadic, and factory-installed devices. Strictly speaking, these recommendations are voluntary, which is precisely why they are referred to as “recommendations.” However, they can become binding if mandated by regional government agencies or customers.

ITU-T recommendations for the car are needed for several reasons:
  • ICTs are moving into the automotive cockpit — Increasingly, ICT systems under the scope of the ITU-T are finding their way into the cockpit and interacting with drivers. Technology-related driver distraction has been recognized as a global problem that needs to be addressed. Internationally agreed guidance on the design and performance of these systems can help increase safety.
  • Easy-to-find guidance for ICT community — ICT designers, developers, and application authors need easy access to guidance on design and performance requirements for ICT systems that interact with drivers. The ICT community consults ITU-T recommendations for guidance and requirements on ICT systems. Therefore, there is real value in having ITU-T recommendations that can serve as a reference to existing driver distraction-related standards and to fill any standardization gaps.
  • Internationally agreed standards — The ITU-T is where governments come together to agree on international telecommunications standards. This is what makes these standards unique. It also gives them more weight with regional Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) and regulatory authorities. There is even value in an ITU-T recommendation that simply references existing standards since it will have gone through the ITU-T approval process.

Focus group on driver distraction
Last year, I became the founding chair for the ITU’s Focus Group on Driver Distraction (FG Distraction), which was created to pull expertise from the automotive industry and human factors experts into the ITU-T standardization process. The group currently has 3 planned ITU-T recommendations related to driver distraction:

G.SAM — recommendation on mechanisms for managing the situational awareness of drivers:


G.V2A — recommendation on an automotive interface (for instance, APIs) for applications external to the vehicle gateway:

P.UIA — recommendation on automotive user interface requirements:

FG Distraction will finalize pulling together input from industry and human factors experts by December 2012. Approved ITU-T recommendations are not expected until late 2013.

Want to contribute?
If you’d like to participate in FG Distraction, the group is open to any individual from a country that is a member of ITU and who is willing to contribute to the work (which is just about everyone). This includes anyone who is also a member or representative of an interested SDO. There is no cost to participate.

For more information about FG Distraction and upcoming meetings, click here. The next meeting will take place on April 4-5 at the SAE Headquarters in Troy, Michigan, USA.

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