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DOT Asks Carmakers to Help Curb Distracted Driving

By Rachelle Dragani
Feb 21, 2012 11:52 AM PT

The U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed guidelines that advise automakers to disable certain in-vehicle electronic features. The DOT wants to crack down on any action that requires drivers to give the task more than a two-second single glance, or 20 seconds of total glance time, to control.

DOT Asks Carmakers to Help Curb Distracted Driving

The suggestions encouraged automakers to make sure that certain in-vehicle electronics wouldn't be used while the vehicle was in motion. Many actions that would force a driver to visually and manually enter data, such as sending text messages, browsing the Web or dialing a 10-digit number, would be disabled under the proposed guidelines. Disabling part of GPS systems that display more than 30 characters of text that's unrelated to the driving task while in motion are included in the suggested set of rules.

Exceptions would apply if the devices were used exclusively by passengers outside of the driver's sight, or if the vehicle is in the park position.

The guidelines are meant to eliminate distractions and increase highway safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association called for a similar nationwide set of guidelines two months ago, although it doesn't have the authority to regulate or enforce restrictions within vehicles.

As drivers' use of in-car electronic devices has increased, so has the number of crashes, according to the data the NHSTA issued with its recent call for a ban on personal electronics in vehicles. In 2010, distracted driving contributed to 9.4 percent of road fatalities, killing 3,092 people, according to the NHTSA. Both agencies expect that number to rise in the future if policy is not implemented.

Shifting In-Vehicle Technology

In issuing its guidelines, the DOT described them as the first phase of an effort to reduce distracted driving on U.S. roadways. The department plans to issue a "Phase II" set of guidelines in the future that will address the use of smartphones, tablets, navigations systems and even voice-activated devices.

These regulations would be geared toward electronics makers such as Apple or Samsung, for example, rather than automakers.

A third phase of restrictions was also mentioned. Phase III guidelines could include voice-activated controls, both built-in and from outside the vehicle, such as a Bluetooth or in-dash voice systems.

Adapting Technology

Since many navigational systems depend on manually entering addresses, the GPS device industry could face the biggest challenges if restrictions were put into place and enforced. It's a change that many automotive technology companies are anticipating.

"We have always encouraged the industry to continue to develop new technology-based tools and offerings that are affordable and consumer-friendly that would create safer driving. The industry constantly produces new products and services, including those that can disable the driver's mobile device," the CTIA - The Wireless Association said in a statement provided to TechNewsWorld by Amy Storey, communications for the association.

The NHTSA noted that the DOT's recommendations are not outright bans on texting, Web browsing, navigational systems or other useful functionality in personal devices, however. Instead, they aim to limit when those features can be used.

"What these guidelines and some of the safety studies are doing is taking a look at the fatalities that come because of distracted driving," Carol Ronis, manager of communications for AAA Foundation, told TechNewsWorld. "Since it's technology that got us into that trouble by taking the driver's concentration and eyes off the road and led to fatalities, this is kind of an eye-opener to other industries to say, 'If you're going to have this kind of technology in the car, you need to present it in a way that can save lives.'"

If the restrictions are implemented, enforcement becomes the next hurdle.

"It's a whole other issue about who takes responsibility. There is somewhat of a complacent attitude with people saying they know it's wrong but they do it anyway, so it's important to continue raising awareness and pushing it on the technology side to continue fighting distracted driving," said Ronis.

The Department of Transportation didn't respond to our requests for comment.


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