Thursday, February 16, 2012

U.S. calls for curb of in-car distractions while vehicle in motion

Just over two months after the NTSB recommended a nationwide ban of cell phones while driving, even with a Bluetooth headset, the Department of Transportation (DoT) has released non-binding guidelines for auto manufacturers, which it calls the "first phase of the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) Driver Distraction Guidelines."

These guidelines aim to curb OEM additions to cars that add to distracted driving.

The recommendations, published in the Federal Register would block in-vehicle communications by a driver, including texting, dialing, Internet browsing, and even entering a GPS address by hand. It wouldn't block handheld personal devices --- yet.

Automakers have continued to add functionality to cars that increase distractions. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has long been concerned about these "features." According to the NHTSA, distracted driving contributed to 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2009 and 20 percent of crashes that caused injuries.

While automakers would be allowed to add such functionality, the features would be restricted from working while a vehicle is in motion. That would include features such as access to social networks like Facebook and Twitter, manual texting, Internet browsing, 10-digit phone dialing and the ability to enter addresses into a built-in navigation system for drivers --- all restricted if the car is in motion.

In a statement, DOT Secreatary Ray LaHood said "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. These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."
David Strickland, administrator of the DoT's NHTSA noted that regulators don't want to ban this functionality completely, only to limit when such features can be used.

The public has 60 days to comment on the recommendations. Public hearings will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. in March.

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