Garmin, a digital navigation company, is bringing maps to the big screen: The company just launched a product that beams GPS info on your windshield, not far from the steering wheel.
It could be a significant development in the ongoing national campaign to deter distracted driving, especially for the states that restrict the use of cellphones and ban texting altogether while driving. And in California, potentially a big market for Garmin products, an appellate court recently ruled that using GPS or mapping functions on a handheld is a moving violation, the same as texting.
Called HUD (short for "head-up display"), the gizmo rests on the dashboard, directly in the driver's line of sight, and projects maps and other navigational data onto a transparent film attached to the windshield from a reflector lens that's attached to the HUD. Garmin says the display is easy to read both day and night. Similar devices have been available in luxury cars for awhile, but this is the first aimed at mainstream consumers, according to the company, because it costs about $160, significantly less than the thousands you pay for the add-on option for high-end vehicles.
To get the mapping info, you need either Navigon or StreetPilot, Garmin's navigation apps, installed on an iPhone or smartphone using the Android or Windows Phone 8 operating systems. HUD connects with your handset through Bluetooth, which allows the imaging to reach the device and then the windshield. Besides map info, HUD provides distances to the next turn, the car's speed and the current speed limit, estimated arrival times and traffic delays, among other road details.
The device can also give spoken directions, either through the smartphone speaker or a Bluetooth-connected car stereo, along with the visual display.
Garmin believes HUD could reduce road hazards stemming from map searches on handhelds. "By providing comprehensive road guidance at a glance and right within the driver's line of sight, HUD can help increase safety and reduce driver distraction," according to a company statement.
When asked if the technology might reduce driver distractions, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spokesman said more research is needed before the agency could comment.
HUD, which will be available later this summer, lists for $129.99 (including the windshield film and reflector lens). The Navigon or StreetPilot apps cost an extra $29.99.
The NHTSA may be quiet about Garmin's HUD, but it's been vocal about the dangers of distracted driving for years, joining the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in calling for a nationwide ban on texting. The NHTSA cites various research and statistics gathered by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):
Not everyone, however, supports a ban.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), for one, has an opposing view, based on its own research. "Neither texting bans nor bans on hand-held phone use have reduced crash risk," says Adrian Lund, president of both the IIHS and the affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), in a report from late 2010. (See: "Cellphone ban hang-ups.")
Lund adds that bans might even increase the risk from drivers who hide their phones and try to text anyway, despite the consequences. "This could exacerbate the risk of texting and drive crash rates up instead of down," he noted in the report. "It's a perverse result of laws intended to reduce risk."
The NHTSA and GHSA's campaign is gaining traction, as Hawaii and Virginia recently enacted laws banning texting while driving, raising the total to 41 states with similar statutes. Drivers in Hawaii can now be fined $100 to $200 for a first offense. In Virginia, you'll face a $125 fine.
A texting ticket may result in higher insurance premiums, but it depends on your insurer and what the laws are in your home state. If you're ticketed in a state where texting violations add points to your driving record or are considered moving violations, an insurer could raise your car insurance rates. (See "Texting tickets and car insurance rates.")
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