Ray LaHood

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.