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NHTSA Proposes New Driver Distraction Guidelines for Automakers

Distracted driving has beat out driving under the influence to become the number one cause of traffic accidents in the U.S. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 80 percent of all motor vehicle accidents can be attributed to the acts of a distracted driver. Most studies have shown that the number one cause of distracted driving is cell phone use.

To combat this growing problem the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed recommendations that would encourage manufacturers to develop “less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices. These new guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.

The focus of these new guidelines would be to establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require the use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving. Ideally, these proposed recommendations would give real-world guidance to manufacturers that help them develop electronic features and conveniences that consumers want for their cars, but that do not distract drivers from their primary task of driving.

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

  • Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;
  • Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);
  • Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;
  • Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;
  • Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.
  • Disable visual-manual texting, social media browsing, Internet browsing, navigation system destination entry by address, phone dialing and displaying to the driver more than 35 characters of the text unrelated to the driving task all while the driver is operating the vehicle. There is an exception for the devices if they are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver and if the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in the park.

The NHTSA is also considering a Phase II and Phase III of guidelines. Phase II would address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are used while driving. These guidelines would focus on aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smartphones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. Phase III would address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

The Phase I guidelines were published in Federal Register on February 16, 2012, and members of the public have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. The NHTSA will review and analyze the public’s responses and then it will issue it’s final guidelines.


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