Feds Propose Distracted-Driving Guidelines to Automakers

Citing more than 3,000 highway deaths from distracted driving in 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a set of distracted-driving guidelines today. The auto industry and the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal — the first ever regarding distracted driving — with hearings in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will issue final guidelines thereafter.

In a conference call to reporters this morning, NHTSA administrator David Strickland laid out a handful of guidelines to reduce the "complexity and amount of time required" for in-car systems:

  • Allow usage with one hand, leaving the other on the steering wheel
  • Limit how long drivers' eyes are off the road to two seconds or less
  • Limit "unnecessary visual information" in the driver's field of view
  • Limit the number of manual inputs required for various operations
Systems should not allow manual text messaging, internet browsing, social media, navigation destination entries, 10-digit phone dialing or displaying 30 or more characters of text "unrelated to the driving task" while the car is moving, NHTSA said.

The organization is considering additional guidelines to address aftermarket devices and personal electronics, including tablets and smartphones brought into the vehicle, as well as voice-recognition systems.

Most factory navigation systems lock out destination entries on the move, but some of today's other proposals could rankle automakers. Systems across the industry — from Ford to Audi — pack a lot of information into screens adjacent to the gauges, certainly in the driver's field of view. A lot of that content, like song titles or radio station info, is peripheral to driving. Glance at a dashboard multimedia screen and much of that info tops 30 characters, especially if the system displays album titles and artist names. Consider a typical song: say, "Sympathy for the Devil" off The Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet." That's more than 50 characters.

"While these devices may offer consumers new tools and features, President Barack Obama's administration is urging automakers to ensure that these devices don't also divert a driver's eyes and hands away from his or her primary responsibility," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters. But LaHood wouldn't go as far as to endorse the National Traffic Safety Board's call last December for banning all cellphones in cars, even those with aftermarket hands-free devices.

"We're happy when anyone gets on the [distracted-driving] bandwagon — the more the merrier," LaHood said, but "before we go too much further, I want to see the studies that we're doing on the cognitive distractions caused by some of these devices in cars."

By Kelsey Mays | February 16, 2012 | Comments (13)


Doug Walser

3 rules for vehicle hmi -
1) Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
2) The most used features should always be avail with the least amount of button presses.
3) Bring back hard buttons


Nanny state.
If I want a car that distracts me for so long to do basic things that I crash and kill others on the highway, that's my right!
Americans always say they are willing to die for the rights of their countrymen, it's time they finally showed it!

Why can't they put fighter plane-style Heads Up Displays (HUDs) into cars, so we barely have to look down at all to see relevant driving information? Sigh.


No one has the right to kill others.

Neil Allen

If these restrictions are put in place most police officers, ambulance and fire truck drivers would have to be retrained. They are THE most distracted drivers of all...and have the fewest accidents. Perhaps the distractions are not the problem...training seems like a better fix.


Being an hmi/ux designer I have to say they go too far. They are only reacting to bad ideas dreamed up by engineers and ergonomics departments.

Good design can and will make systems less distracting.



Maybe other people don't want to die. Ever thought of that?


What I hate is that these cars needlessly restrict the passenger.

I recently went on a road trip, alternating driving with my sister. The car had a fancypants navigation system.

Now, my sister and I like to keep our stops short. When we think about lunch, it just made sense that the person in the passenger's seat should use the navigation system to scope out restaurant options in the next fifty or hundred miles.

Unfortunately, the boneheaded navigation system was looking out for our safety. It wouldn't let us search for destinations while the car was in motion, despite the fact that only one of us needed to drive the car at a time.

I don't mind the idea of restricted use when it's just a driver, and I applaud the idea of keeping controls simple. Locking out the passenger, though, is just infuriating.


Sanity has returned. New cars are not transportation - they are entertainment systems. When I buy a car - i want safe and reliable transportation - not a gadget machine.


Whatever happened to driving being about driving??


The controversy is as old as the automobile itself, "Tool vs. Toy", "Need vs. Want".

We are like children who can't decide for themselves, and the government, like an adult will ultimately make the decisions that nobody will be happy with, for us!


Perhaps this makes me a terrible person, because of course one death due to distracted driving is too many, but 3,000 is a fairly low number when you consider the millions of people driving while on the phone or texting. I've sat through many accident court cases, and few of them involve cell phone use. People can be distracted even when there is nothing to distract them and do really stupid things while not on the phone. Better training is a much better answer than across-the-board bans that punish everyone but don't really fix the problems. In fact, accidents tend to go up in states that outlaw cell phones while driving.

This article mentioned a move to ban cell phones in the car. My job has me travelling all over the state, and it is not unusual to put in over 1,000 miles in a week. Banning cell phones in the car is just taking it too far. You might ask "what did you do before cell phones, then? How did you function?" I got lost a lot and made my mamma worry. That's what I did.



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