Concerned that dashboard access to web browsers, texting, social media, navigation interfaces and the like could lead to escalated incidents of distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has asked the nation’s automakers to find ways of limiting driver access to these functions while vehicles are in motion.
Recommendation issued Thursday
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the recommendations Thursday. The NHTSA also took the opportunity to release a 177-page guidebook for automakers and those who design their increasingly high-tech electronic displays.
David Strickland, director of the NHTSA introduced the new guidelines:
“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers. The guidelines we’re proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want — without disrupting a driver’s attention or sacrificing safety.”
Guidelines voluntary at this time
The new guidelines were presented as voluntary. However, the NHTSA said the guidelines were only a first phase of its efforts to limit the use of non-essential electronics in a moving vehicle.
Two more phases to follow
The second round of recommendations pending from the NHTSA will pinpoint peripheral devices, such as handsets and headsets. And the third phase will recommend developing devices that are voice-activated in order to minimize driver distraction.
Devices that distract the driver
The main target of the new NHTSA guidelines are dashboard functions that distract a driver’s eyes away from the windshield for more than two seconds and functions such as social media and texting that require the user to input data.
Safeguard against use in front-seat
Further, the national automotive watchdog urged automakers to engineer in safeguards that render these function inaccessible to the driver and front-seat passengers “whenever the vehicle’s engine is on and its transmission is not in ‘Park.’”
More recommendations and action to follow
In December the NHTSA recommended the banning of cellular devices, hands free or not. Today’s push reinforces the great concern the agency has over the issue of driver distraction. It seems likely that further recommendations and possible mandates will follow.
Guidelines subject to public comment
Recommendations from the NHTSA are subject to a 60-day waiting period for the public to react and comment. Public hearings on the recommendations will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington D.C. in March. Final recommendations will be published following those forums.