Safety & Accident

U.S. DOT Issues New Distracted Driving Guidelines for In-vehicle Technologies

February 16, 2012

WASHINGTON – During a press conference on Feb. 16, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood, and the National Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Administrator David Strickland, presented new proposed guidelines designed to encourage automakers to limit the risk of driver distraction when using communications, navigation, and entertainment technologies built into vehicles.

The first phase of the guidelines include recommendations to do the following:

  • Reduce the complexity of in-vehicle devices, and the amount of time it takes to use those devices;
  • To limit system operations to require only one hand;
  • To limit the time required to glance at a device to no more than 2 seconds;
  • To limit the amount of unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;
  • To limit the number of manual inputs needed to operate a device.

In addition, the guidelines suggest that automakers disable certain functions while the vehicle is in motion, specifically text messaging, Internet browsing, social media use, entering navigation system addresses, entering phone numbers for dialing, and displaying more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

The DOT said it didn’t consider systems that help drivers avoid accidents (forward collision avoidance systems or lane-departure alerts) to be distracting. For navigation, Strickland said pre-programming destinations is one way to avoid distraction, and that receiving directions from GPS-enabled navigation systems is safer than the old method of using paper maps while driving.

Overall, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated it’s considering future sets of guidelines that would address devices brought into a vehicle (smart phones, tablets, etc.) and voice-activated device and system controls.

During the question and answer period, several reporters asked why the DOT and NHTSA decided to create guidelines rather than mandates given both agencies’ focus on preventing distracted driving. NHTSA’s Strickland said he thinks guidelines are more effective than mandates. He gave a recent example of working with the automakers to align bumper heights across the U.S. fleet. Strickland added that NHTSA would rather have full voluntary compliance, by working with automakers and other groups, than create mandates.

When asked about the recent National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) statement on banning all technologies that can distract drivers, including hands-free use of devices, Lahood said the NTSB has invited NHTSA to testify at upcoming hearings on distracted driving. He said he is waiting on research on cognitive distraction that the DOT and NHTSA are conducting before proceeding with creating additional guidelines.

Lahood said the new guidelines are now open to a public comment period of 60 days, inviting feedback from the public, automakers, and other interest groups.

By Greg Basich

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