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U.S. DOT proposes distraction guidelines for auto manufacturers

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Feb. 17, 2012—U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to develop less distracting in-vehicle electronic devices, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The proposed voluntary guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices that are not required to safely operate a vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Phase I of the proposed guidelines recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices in their vehicles are less likely to distract drivers with tasks that are not relevant to safely operating the vehicle. Phase I of the distraction guidelines include the following recommendations:

• Reduce complexity and task length required by devices
• Limit device operation to one hand only so the driver’s other hand can remain on the steering wheel
• 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 also recommend disabling the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving:

• 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
• Displaying more than 30 characters of text to drivers that are unrelated to driving tasks

“Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America’s roadways—that’s why I’ve made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel,” LaHood said. “These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also considering to propose two additional phases of guidelines. Phase II will address devices or systems that are brought into vehicles and used while driving, including portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smartphones, electronic tablets and other mobile communications devices. Phase III will address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket and portable devices.

The NHTSA will hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment and feedback. The hearings will be conducted in March in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers,” said David Strickland, administrator of the NHTSA. “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.”

Visit the NHTSA’s website to view the proposed electronic equipment guidelines.

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