In its continuing battle against distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued voluntary guidelines covering the use of in-car infotainment and communication devices. It is NHTSA’s intention that the proposals, which have been in the works for a year and are partly based on a 2010 study called “Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk,” will be phased in over the next three years. That would give automakers time to reconfigure their systems to comply.
Proposed items include disabling manual text entry, video-based entertainment and video phone calls and prohibiting the display of text messages, social media or web pages while the car is in motion or in gear. The objective is to keep the driver’s eyes off the road for no more than two seconds at a time, and 12 seconds in total. That 12-second limit would be achieved by only allowing a driver six inputs or touches of the screen within a dozen seconds, but it would include activities beyond phone calls and nav inputs, like changing the radio station or using the climate control. At the moment, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has a self-imposed limit of 20 seconds, although we’re not sure how that’s enforced by the infotainment system.
Calling distracted driving “a deadly epidemic,” NHTSA says that it is trying to “balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need.” The study showed that activities like using hand-held phones potentially tripled the risk of a crash and texting doubled the risk of a crash or near-crash. Distracted drivers accounted for about a third of all accident fatalities in 2011, a rise over 2010, but injuries are down, as are the number of crashes related to phone use.
According to a report in Automotive News, when the proposals are fully implemented, NHTSA is also considering adding them the the New Car Assessment Program, which would encourage automakers to comply if they want a five-star safety rating.