Federal agencies reaching for more in-car electronics regulation

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Audrina Patridge driving a Dodge Challenger.

Distracted driving can be deadly. (Photo Credit: CC BY/dodge challenger1/Wikipedia)

Distracted driving is a multifaceted conundrum, in that there are myriad ways for a driver to dangerously shift attention away from surrounding road conditions. In light of the oncoming wave of in-car electronics related to driving infotainment, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released a set of rules that drivers may eventually be required by law to follow. These rules will save lives, the NHTSA argues.

Driver distraction status updates

Facebook, Twitter, apps and a wide variety of other services that the modern in-car infotainment experience comprises have the NHTSA worried. Particularly when such services are run through Bluetooth links to portable, non-hands free devices, the NHTSA believes that automotive safety is compromised. That’s why various automotive industry representatives sent warnings to federal regulators Monday, reports the Detroit Free Press.

“It does seem likely that drivers will use other devices not subject to the guidelines,” said Mike Cammisa of trade group Global Automakers.

The NHTSA’s proposed guidelines for helping drivers avoid infotainment accident mayhem were released last month. The report states that 17 percent of police-reported crashes in 2010 were a result of distracted driving. However, only 3 percent of total crashes reported were shown to involve in-car infotainment or similar embedded devices like GPS or voice-activated phone technology, like Ford Sync.

An argument in need of a target

Despite the low percentage of observed in-car electronics-caused incidents, NHTSA officials have decided that even hands-free systems should be regulated. Ostensibly presented to simplify the operation of embedded devices in new vehicles, product engineers see the proposed regulation as being potentially unfair. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers argued that some of the proposed NHTSA rules may push drivers back to using smartphones and other devices that are not meant to be handled when driving.

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Taking the holistic approach

Spokesman Markus Hess of Mercedes-Benz called the NHTSA proposal “unnecessary,” yet NHTSA Administrator David Strickland sees in-car system regulation as a necessary stepping stone to eventually developing more concrete regulation regarding the use of any hand-held devices inside a vehicle, something the National Transportation Safety Board suggested late last year.

Strickland told the Detroit Free Press that while proposed NHTSA regulation has not amounted to lobbying lawmakers for change yet, the agency does appreciate the NTSB’s stance against distracted driving.

“How we deal with distracted driving needs to be a holistic approach,” Strickland remarked.

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Detroit Free Press


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