NHTSA ‘lacks authority’ to issue driver distraction guidelines

By Greg Grisolano, associate editor

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should stay in its lane when it comes to promulgating safety regulations.

In comments filed Feb. 3 in reference to NHTSA’s second phase of “Driver Distraction Guidelines,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the agency should be spending its time and resources in areas where they have statutory authority.

“NHTSA continues to overstep its authority and continues to fail at its mission of saving lives and improving safety,” Spencer said in the comments. “NHTSA should concentrate a great deal of its efforts on the Federal Motor Vehicle Standards. Additionally, NHTSA has completed study after study on Heavy Truck Crash Worthiness and has yet to make any substantive recommendations to reduce the injury severity and deaths of thousands of truck drivers.”

The guidelines are meant to address the problem of traffic fatalities stemming from distracted drivers, particularly those stemming from a crash that occurred as a result of a driver engaging in a “visual-manual interaction” with a cell phone.

Last November, the agency asked smartphone manufacturers to develop systems that could pair the phone with the driver’s in-vehicle system. In cases where pairing isn’t possible, NHTSA is asking manufacturers to develop a “driver mode.” This would prevent drivers from texting or using most of the phone’s applications.

In OOIDA’s comments, Spencer said the agency should review all the applications that truck drivers use. The review should include trucking-specific navigational apps, apps that monitor temperature of refrigerated loads, and those that advise them of real-time truck parking availability, so as to consider the negative results that any guidelines hampering those applications would have for truckers.

“OOIDA strongly encourages a cooperative working environment with NHTSA and supports driver education and legislation that would inform the motoring public, particularly regarding teen drivers and the dangers of distracted driving,” Spencer stated. “Every day our members are forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions with motorists who are utilizing some form of technology within their vehicle that impedes safe driving habits.” LL