US calling on automakers to disable applications that distract drivers

Article by Christian A., on February 19, 2012

The guidelines on distracted driving have finally been released by the United States Department of Transportation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling on automakers to disable applications that permit drivers to manually access social media, send text messages, and surf the Web while they’re on the road.

The agency also recommends the elimination of any in-car technologies that call for drivers to use both hands or take their eyes off the road for longer than two seconds.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that as technology advances, there are increasingly more distractions aside from cell phones. LaHood is known for his focus on distracted driving as a major safety issue. He said that in-vehicle electronic systems are being developed by several automakers that offer directions, enable drivers to post to social networking sites, and search the Internet.

It should be emphasized that these guidelines are voluntary. This means that if automakers don’t comply, they won’t have to pay a penalty or experience a safety downgrade. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said that in creating these guidelines, the agency had meetings with “countless" stakeholders, such as carmakers and independent research groups. The agency decided to make compliance optional so that regulators could get more flexibility in coping with the fast pace of technologies.

Strickland said that the agency is hopeful that automakers will make compliance with the guidelines a selling point to consumers in the same way that they have with other safety ratings. The public will be able to comment on these guidelines during the next 60 days. The agency has scheduled three public hearings in Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles this March.

There were 3,092 deaths due to distracted driving in 2010. However, the NHTSA thinks that the total figure is actually higher since drivers are often reluctant to admit to the behavior and there are no witnesses to many crashes.

Tasked with the mission "Save lives, prevent injuries, reduce vehicle-related crashes," the NHTSA is an agency of the Executive Branch of the US government. Part of the US Department of Transportation, NHTSA is in charge of crafting and enforcing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards as well as in administering the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) system.

NHTSA was formed by the US Congress in 1970 with the Highway Safety Act of 1970. Its scope was expanded by the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act in 1972. The legislation formed the National Traffic Safety Agency, the National Highway Safety Agency, and the National Highway Safety Bureau – all of which are predecessor agencies of the NHTSA. [source: AutoWeek]

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