NHTSA Issues Distracted Driving Guidelines, Backs Off Regulation
April 24, 2013

NHTSA Issues Distracted Driving Guidelines, Backs Off Regulation

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released final guidelines aimed at automakers, but pulled back from calling for actual regulations. These guidelines were released following a comment period on a draft release by the NHTSA last year.

The new guidelines were posted on the NHTSA website.

US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood called on automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk of electronic devices that are built into a car, and these include those for communications, entertainment and navigation.

“Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said Secretary LaHood in a statement. “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. Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives.”

This follows a new study released by the Texas Transportation Institute that found that even hands-free texting can be as distracting — and as much of a danger — as manually reading and replying to texts.

The non-binding guidelines asked automakers to bar the use of social media websites and Internet browsing through any in-vehicle infotainment system while a vehicle is moving. Automakers were further encouraged to design navigation and other screen-based systems that could be used in a way drivers would not need to take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds to select an option, or for a total of twelve seconds to complete a task like entering an address.

The recommendations outlined for automakers are reportedly consistent with the findings of a new NHTSA naturalistic driving study “The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk,” which found visual-manual tasks associated with hand-held devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.

“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,” said David L. Strickland, NHTSA Administrator. “The new guidelines and our ongoing work with our state partners across the country will help us put an end to the dangerous practice of distracted driving by limiting the amount of time drivers take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and their attention away from the task of driving.”

However, some experts say the blame does not lie on the devices but on the users.

“There are many, many factors contributing to these distractions,” said Praveen Chandrasekar, Infotainment & Telematics program manager at research firm Frost & Sullivan. “Things will be blamed on the automobile manufactures´ but the distractions are prominent because of user behavior.

“When you are inside the car you are distraction free only if your eyes are on the road,” Chandraseker told redOrbit. “In Europe they have cracked down on this type of behavior and to use a phone in the car you need to have a Bluetooth headset.”

About 3,300 people reportedly die a year in crashes attributed to distracted driving, while more than 387,000 more people are injured as a result of it.

While the NHTSA is encouraging automakers to address the issue, Chandrasekar notes some states are looking at legislation.

“This sort of behavior is not acceptable in California,” he added. “It is actually illegal.”