The U.S. Department of Transportation today released its long-awaited guidelines on distracted driving, calling on automakers to disable applications that allow drivers to manually access social media, surf the Web or send text messages while on the road.
The recommendations also seek to prevent any in-car technologies that require drivers to use both hands or take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds.
"Increasingly, data shows that as technology evolves, cell phones aren't the only potential distraction in vehicles," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has made distracted driving his signature safety issue.
"Many carmakers are now developing in-vehicle electronic systems that can give directions, post to social networking sites and search the Internet."
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the trade group is generally supportive of the agency's guidelines.
"They're based on guidelines we developed 10 years ago," Bergquist said. But they also go further to address other emerging technologies, such as those involving social media, she added.
But the Alliance, which represents 12 major carmakers, is concerned that the disability technology won't be well received by consumers, Bergquist said.
Drivers who can't access access applications on their dashboards will just revert to calling them up on their handheld devices, she added.
"If you can't put an address into GPS while moving, then you'll just use your handheld Garmin," Bergquist said.
The guidelines are voluntary, meaning automakers won't be penalized or suffer a safety downgrade if they don't comply.
In crafting the guidelines, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said the agency met with a "countless" number of stakeholders, including carmakers and independent research groups.
The agency chose to make compliance optional to give regulators more flexibility in keeping with the pace of fast-evolving technologies.
Strickland added that the agency hopes automakers will make compliance with the guidelines a selling point to consumers, as they do with other safety ratings.
The public will have a chance to comment on the guidelines over the next 60 days. NHTSA will also hold three public hearings in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in March.
In 2010, distracted driving deaths totaled 3,092, but NHTSA believes the total could be higher because drivers are often unwilling to admit to the behavior and many crashes lack witnesses.
While other auto industry trade groups have published their own safety guidelines for in-car technologies, NHTSA wants to broaden the scope to include emerging apps for social media, and better define what constitutes a distracted driving task.
The agency is working on a study to determine the hazards of in-vehicle phone use and is looking at hand-held and hands-free devices. It plans to release its analysis late next year.
Still, some safety advocates feel the agency's guidelines don't go far enough.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a proposal in December calling for all states to outlaw cell phone use, including use of hands-free devices, while driving.
The proposal is far tougher than restrictions put in place by many states banning hand-held calls or texting and could put technologies that promote hands-free calling behind the wheel at risk.
While LaHood said he appreciates NTSB's efforts, the agency is still studying the risks of driving while using hands-free devices. LaHood said in December he didn't believe "hands-free" was the problem.
"Before we go too much further," LaHood said, "I want to see what the studies we're doing on the cognitive distractions on some of these technologies."
PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes ‘Distraction' Guidelines for Automakers
Proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop "less distracting" in-vehicle electronic devices
WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices. The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.
Issued by the Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama's FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.
"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways – that's why I've made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel," said Secretary LaHood. "These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."
Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the guidelines proposed today are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA plans to issue to address sources of distraction that require use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.
In particular, the Phase I proposed guidelines released today recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver's eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving. Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices.
"We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today's American drivers," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "The guidelines we're proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want—without disrupting a driver's attention or sacrificing safety."
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.
The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.
• Visual-manual text messaging;
• Visual-manual internet browsing;
• Visual-manual social media browsing;
• Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;
• Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;
• Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.
NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.
The Phase I guidelines were published in today's Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.
NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment. The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C