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The Driver's House Rules: Putting the Brakes on Automobile DVD

Kinley Levak

January 26, 2021 | As almost anyone who undertakes a daily drive to work will tell you, drivers that chat away on a wireless phone while attempting to navigate the ever-chaotic roads are annoying, to say the least. One can only imagine the reaction to a driver that, while cruising down a turnpike, can't seem to keep his eyes from the dash-mounted LCD DVD player as the passenger watches The Matrix.

Sounds like traffic's worst nightmare? Well, as automobile-mounted DVD players are beginning to hit the mainstream, this could soon become a reality. Fortunately, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has expressed concern regarding the safe installation and use of video devices in automobiles. The CEA has issued guidelines that state if an LCD panel or video monitor is used in an automobile for the viewing of television or video--including DVD--then it should only be used when the vehicle is in "park" or when the parking brake is set. The other option they offer is to mount the monitor where it is not in view of the driver, but solely for rear-seat entertainment, which would be permissible to use when the vehicle is moving. The CEA maintains that operating devices used for navigation, observation, or system control would also be permissible while driving.

Although the exact percentage of consumers who prefer to watch a DVD from a bucket seat as opposed to a Lazy Boy recliner is not available, it seems unlikely that we'll see many drivers watching DVDs in their driveways (unless they really miss those bygone drive-in movie days). But the CEA insists that that's the only way to go. What's more, many manufacturers have expressed safety concerns similar to the CEA's, and therefore include instructions and warnings with the devices they sell. Eclipse (by Fujitsu Ten), for one, has incorporated a number of safety measures into their video devices. According to Sheryll Siazon of Eclipse, "No moving picture, movies and animation, are displayed in the driver's viewing area." Eclipse has also included a mechanism that is connected to the vehicle's parking brake, and will prohibit the DVD device (if located in the front of the vehicle) from being used unless the brake is applied.

Panasonic has launched its first in-dash DVD Audio/Video player, the CQ-DVR909U, with the following warning:

This unit must not be installed where the video monitor is visible to the driver to avoid risk of serious injury or possible violation of laws. The driver must not operate the color LCD monitor and/or watch videos while driving. Operating the color LCD monitor and/or watching movies while driving may lead to carelessness and cause an accident. Keep the unit at an appropriate sound level. Driving with the sound at a level that prevents you from hearing sounds outside and around the vehicle may cause an accident.

Andy Marken, president of Marken Communications, a PR firm representing clients including Panasonic, sees where the CEA is coming from. "I have a GPS display system in my new car and I personally find it most distracting," says Marken. "Maybe I can't multi-task enough but I find it difficult to watch the screen and drive responsibly on city streets."

In the quest to reduce distraction and increase safety, Panasonic, as well as a number of other manufacturers of DVD video devices, offers headphones for the rear seat occupants, and a separate sound system allowing front seat passengers to listen to the radio.

Most monitors are mounted on the ceiling of the car, and the units either fold down or are stationary screens. Questions have arisen regarding the distraction level to other drivers on the road, and some car manufacturers have taken the whole safety issue to new extremes.

Mercedes-Benz locates viewing monitors in the back of the front seat headrests, allowing rear seat passengers to view films comfortably but decreasing distraction to other drivers. The company's S55 AMG Advanced Mobile Media, however, is a car so packed with technology that a techno-savvy professional may never need to set foot in the office again. From the comfort of the driver's seat, one can send faxes, make telephone calls, email, surf the Internet on a built-in PC, and hold video conferences via a small camera in the PC workstation.

Other cars including the Nissan Quest Minivan, the Oldsmobile Profile Sports Sedan, and the Buick Regal Cielo concept car offer a DVD-Video player as a factory-installed add-on option, and it is standard with the Volvo S80 Executive Package. The move to include DVD seems justified as sales of mobile DVD video devices continue to rise. According to Alpine marketing VP Stephen Witt, an estimated 50,000 units of Alpine's car DVD player were sold in 2000, and that number is expected to jump to 250,000 in 2001.

Competition among DVD-Video makers is increasing as well. Pioneer, Clarion, Eclipse, Audiovox, Accele, Panasonic, and Alpine have joined the ranks of vendors offering DVD-Video players for the car. Kenwood is expected to ship two models in early 2001, and Blaupunkt and Sherwood are also considering releasing units of their own. Visteon Corporation has announced plans to work in conjunction with General Motors Corporation to offer the first family of vehicles featuring DVD rear seat entertainment systems. Visteon expects these units to be available in early 2001.

The growth of the vendor pool and the dramatic price drops of portable DVD and DLP displays suggest that dash-mounted DVDs may become standard equipment in the years to come. However wise the suggestions of the CEA for limiting the use of that equipment, though, it seems that any practical restrictions will have to be targeted at manufacturers, as it is unlikely that simple recommendations will suffice to regulate consumer activities in the seemingly inviolable refuge of the American car.

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