DOT Releases “Voluntary” Guidelines For Automakers Aimed At Curbing Distracted Driving

February 16, 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today released proposed “voluntary” and “nonbinding” guidelines for automakers to encourage them to develop “less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices.

U. S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the announcement which will apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required for the driver to safely operate the vehicle.

“Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America’s roadways,” said LaHood. “That’s why I’ve made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel.”

The proposed guidelines, phase one of the three-phase “Driver Distraction Program” created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are voluntary, are not a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) and, therefore, do not fall under the NHTSA’s normal enforcement procedures.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland commented that the guidelines being proposed 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.”

Phase one guidelines cover visual-manual interfaces of devices installed in vehicles. Phase two will include portable and aftermarket devices. Phase three will expand to include auditory-vocal interfaces.

Phase I guidelines

Today’s announcement lays out the specifics of phase one of the proposed guidelines. What they do is establish specific recommended criteria for all electronic devices installed in the vehicle by the manufacturer that require visual or manual operation by the driver. The proposed voluntary guidelines apply to all light vehicles, including passenger cars, SUVs, minivans, pickup trucks and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).

The recommendations include designing in-vehicle devices so that the driver cannot use them to perform certain tasks while driving. Such tasks include:

  • Displaying video or images not related to driving
  • Displaying automatically scrolling text
  • Requiring manual entry of more than six button or key presses during a single task
  • Requiring reading of more than 30 characters of text (excluding punctuation marks)

These recommendations are intended to prohibit the driver from watching video, engaging in visual-manual text messaging, visual-manual Internet browsing and visual-manual social media browsing while driving. The guidelines are not intended to prevent displaying images related to driving, such as those images in rearview and blind-zone camera displays.

What this boils down to is the specific recommendation that in-vehicle devices be designed so the driver can complete necessary tasks while driving by glancing away from the road for two seconds or less, and cumulative time of glancing away of 12 seconds or less. Furthermore, the in-vehicle devices should require no more than one of the driver’s hands to operate, so that the other one remains free to control the vehicle, and that the active display be located as close to the driver’s forward line of sight as possible and be at the recommended maximum downward viewing angle.  

The proposed phase one guidelines were published in the Federal Register and the public has the opportunity to comment on them for a period of 60 days. The final guidelines will be issued after agency review, analysis and response to public input.

The NHTSA will also hold three public hearings to solicit public comment. The hearings will take place in March in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

To view the proposed electronic equipment guidelines, click here.        

Also see our earlier story on the uphill battle to stop texting while driving.

Do the proposed guidelines go far enough? Give us your take in the comments section below.

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