Feds urge automakers to limit electronic distractions for drivers

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, April 25, 2013

A federal agency says shortening the time it takes to complete an electronic task on vehicle’s built-in devices will help keep a driver’s eyes where they belong – on the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rolled out a set voluntary guidelines Wednesday, April 23, urging automakers to limit distracting tasks on built-in electronics to increments of two seconds and a total of 12 seconds overall.

The guidelines call for automakers to disable functions such as manual text entry, web browsers and social media when a vehicle is in motion or stopped for a traffic light.

More and more automakers are adding touch screens and interactive software, including social media and video conference calling, to their dashboard consoles. Some makers promote larger display screens, direct links to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and plug-ins for external devices as selling points for their automobiles.

NHTSA’s guidance calls for a buy-in from the automakers to limit the distractions.

“These guidelines recognize that today’s drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated Wednesday. “Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives.”

Texting while driving and the use of hand-held electronic devices are already illegal for operators of commercial trucks, buses, trains and aircraft. Violation of those federal regs can lead to steep fines and penalties for a trucker – including suspension of a driver’s CDL, depending on the infraction.

The U.S. Department of Transportation does not have the jurisdiction to make such rules for drivers of passenger vehicles. The DOT has, however, rolled out various guidelines to states urging them to pass laws to limit driver distractions. Most states have implemented texting laws for drivers, and various states have gone further to limit the use of hand-held devices.

A new study referenced by NHTSA in the latest guideline says a driver manually performing an electronic task takes his or her eyes off the road in a series of increments that add up to 23 seconds total. The agency is hoping to limit the increments to two seconds each and cut the overall time of the task to 12 seconds or less. The agency believes that’s the right recipe to save lives.

“The new study strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver’s focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, referencing the study titled, “The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk.”

Numerous studies through the years, including the latest one, have shown that talking on a phone while driving – no matter whether it is using a hand-held device or hands-free – is not nearly as distracting as manual tasks such as dialing, and nowhere nearly as dangerous as texting.

LaHood launched his campaign against distracted driving almost immediately after being sworn in as transportation secretary in 2009, and numerous actions, rules, guidelines and public service announcements have followed.

OOIDA representatives attended LaHood’s first ever national summit on distracted driving in the fall of 2009.

That summit led to the federal ban on texting while driving for truck and bus drivers in September 2010, and paved the way for a follow-up rule in February 2011 that restricted the use of hand-held devices.

According to NHTSA, 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2009 were related to distracted driving.

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