NHTSA Announces Proposed Driver Distraction Guidelines

Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed the first-ever federal guidelines to encourage automakers to design infotainment systems that would reduce driver distraction during use. The proposed guidelines were announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The guidelines would be voluntary and “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 press release said the guidelines would apply to “in-vehicle communications, entertainment, information gathering, and navigation” systems. Safety features such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts and other electronic warning devices would be exempt. “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, in a press release. “These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages.” NHTSA said the guidelines announced today are the first in a series of ongoing “guidance documents” it plans to address as other sources of distraction are identified. Sources of distraction are anything that “requires use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.” “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, in a press release. “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.” Phase I proposed guidelines encourage automakers to design infotainment systems and devices that are less likely to be a source of distraction. According to NHTSA, recommendations included in the proposed Phase I distraction guidelines are: • 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. Also included in the proposed guidelines is the disabling of any in-vehicle devices for the driver. Devices intended to be used by passengers and are not accessible to the driver unless vehicle is stopped and in park include: • 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. Proposed Phase II guidelines are being considered by NHTSA. Phase II would encourage manufacturers of aftermarket electronics (such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices) to design devices to comply to the above proposed guidelines. Proposed Phase III guidelines would encourage automakers and aftermarket companies to incorporate more voice-activated controls to limit driver distraction. The proposed “driver distraction” guidelines would apply to light vehicles under 10,000 Pounds GVW. The proposed Phase I guidelines are open for public comment for 60 days and can be found in today’s Federal Register. NHTSA will issue final guidelines “after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.” Public hearings will also be held on the proposed guidelines, and NHTSA encourages public comment. Hearings will take place in Los Angeles and Washington D.C. in March. President Obama requested $330 million over the next six years for distracted driving programs in his fiscal year 2013 budget request. The president wants to increase awareness of distracted driving. Source: NHTSA

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