Distracted driving is a topic that's on everybody's minds these days, and for good reason. Every new car and truck sold today is packed with more technology than every before, from touchscreen LCDs that offer myriad audio and infotainment options to voice-controlled applications and various forms of smartphone integration.

It comes as little surprise, then, that U.S. Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood has announced a new set of proposed distracted driving guidelines for automakers that would limit the use of in-car tech solutions that are "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."

Specifically, DOT is recommending that automakers not introduce technology packages that require both hands to operate or that could take a driver's eyes from the road for more than two seconds. Further, DOT wants technologies that require detailed input from the driver to be disabled while the car is out of park. That would include text messaging and internet browsing along with such tasks as address entry into navigation systems and manual phone dialing.

Future guidelines may include recommendations to manufacturers of aftermarket devices like smartphones, portable GPS units and tablet computers. It's important to note that these guidelines are recommendations, not mandates. Feel free to read the entire press release, which includes specific guidelines, after the break. The public will have 60 days to comment on this proposal before final guidelines are drafted.
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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

To view today's proposed electronic equipment guidelines, click here.


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  • 52 Comments
      clquake
      • 2 Years Ago
      Limit the touch screen stupidity. Things like hvac/defrost should be separate, not integrated into a touch screen where i have to read the screen to change the temp settings. I should be able to reach over, and change things by feel. A touch screen feels the same on every part of the screen, so you have to take your eyes off the road.
        Firefly
        • 2 Years Ago
        @clquake
        This is where (for all intents and purposes) I think Tesla is messing up with their new cars. As if someone isn't distracted enough, you're going to give the driver a 17-inch touchscreen to play with and you're going to integrate the HVAC, vehicle telematics and sliding moonroof controls into it. I think technology is great and I'm all for advancement but not at the expense of the loss of proper human interaction with a modicum of common sense. I think they should invest in proper voice controls. I tell my Xbox 360 with Kinect what to do by voice nearly every day when selecting games and applications. If it can be done in a house, it can be done in a car.
      Matt
      • 2 Years Ago
      As long as HVAC and radio controls are sperate buttons and not menus on a touch screen there goes majority of your distracted driving (legitimate distractions, not some idiot texting or eating a sammich). But I don't like disabling entering of text when not in park; what if I have a passenger that is more than capable of typing out an address? I'm not pulling over to enter an address when they would be perfectly able to. I would be okay with disabling the keyboard while in drive and only allowing voice entry.
        Firefly
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Matt
        +1 to you, Matt because you used the word 'sammich'!
        citidriver
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Matt
        your passengers can use their smart phone, they don't wait for you to drive them to go about their daily tweets do they?
      PatrickH
      • 2 Years Ago
      Here's an idea! Make it harder to get a damn driver's license! You can practically get one now just by being able to breath. Unless people are better educated as drivers none of this **** will ever work. And it will only anger responsible drivers.
      ryanandrewmartin
      • 2 Years Ago
      The other day I was riding with a friend and took a picture of a man driving a van while talking on the phone and writing on a clipboard sitting on his steering wheel. NO hands on the wheel. The ****!?
      Making11s
      • 2 Years Ago
      I agree with DOT on this. Moving my Twitter feed from my iPhone to a screen on my dashboard doesn't really make me less distracted.
      Mikeman
      • 2 Years Ago
      He forgot to say "Automakers who are making cars with touchscreen-controlled heaters and radios, please stop, it's stupid and annoying in addition to distracting" I got a new Ford Explorer as a rental last year, MyFord Touch ruined it.
      hmmwv
      • 2 Years Ago
      Mr. LaHood looks distracted, guess he's worried about Sam.
      RussellJ
      • 2 Years Ago
      I fully support guidelines that minimize (or eliminate) DRIVER distractions. Since I often drive with a passenger, I would like the ability for THEM to utilize the technology features in the car, the most important of which is the ability of the PASSENGER to input into the navigation system while the vehicle is in motion. My Toyota Sienna does not allow this BUT there are solutions that can be purchased to work around this shortcoming and I have such a solution installed. However, I personally NEVER use it while driving simply because it IS dangerous. Even on an empty highway you could still drift out of your lane and off the road. If Toyota would monitor the passenger seat for a LIVE human being and only kill input when there wasn't someone there it would be a solution that wouldn't require me to find alternatives. I hope the automakers take this scenario (and others like them) into account when they plan ways to meet the guidelines.
      jbm0866
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's really a shame that so many people have little common sense or self control...so much that we need big government to force a little of both. It would be great if onboard nav systems could be fiddled with by the front seat passenger while moving...but I can understand why the temptation would be too high for some drivers when alone. Thankfully standalone nav systems can be easily overidden...but I expect that bit of functionality to go away eventually. (if it hasn't already in the newest models)
      Chris
      • 2 Years Ago
      Given all of the gadgetry found in most cars today, I can't say I am totally surprised. Many of the people I know would probably experience symptoms of withdrawal if left without their navigation system. Over the last ten years, it has really gotten out of hand. Now, the DOT must not be overzealous with their actions and take things too far in the other direction.
      citidriver
      • 2 Years Ago
      Whatever you think a guideline should be for a pilot landing a plane full of hundreds of people or your second grader's school bus driver might be a good starting point. That might change the conversation from what laws will affect me to what laws will benefit all. Also, manufacturers should be required to offer non touch screen versions of their cars, dedicated major controls don't need you to look away from driving.
      ojfltx
      • 2 Years Ago
      What is the problem they are trying to solve? Accidents have been coming down steadily. Why make things harder and more expensive. Too many people trying to meddle.
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