US Department of Transportation proposes ‘distraction’ guidelines for automakers for in-vehicle electronic devices
17 February 2012
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has 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.
The proposal comes in the wake of the December 2011 call by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) following a Board meeting on a 2010 multi-vehicle highway accident in Gray Summit, Missouri, for the first-ever nationwide ban on driver-use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) while operating a motor vehicle. (Earlier post.)
Issued by DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the newly proposed 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. President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.
The most recent data available—2010 data—show that 17% of all police-reported crashes (fatal, injury-only and property-damage-only) in the US involve reports of distracted driving. The percent of all police-reported crashes that involve distraction has remained consistent over 5 years.
Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the proposed guidelines 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.
The Phase I proposed guidelines cover certain devices installed in vehicles as original equipment that are operated by the driver through visual-manual means (meaning the driver looking at a device, manipulating a device-related control with the driver’s hand, and watching for visual feedback from the device).
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.
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; and
- 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 the 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
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