Guidelines proposed to end driver distraction from mobile devices

Distracted TeensU.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the second level of proposed guidelines to prevent driver distraction from mobile devices while driving for device makers.

The proposed, voluntary guidelines are designed to encourage portable and aftermarket electronic device developers to design products that, when used while driving, reduce the potential for driver distraction.

The guidelines encourage manufacturers to implement features such as pairing, where a portable device is linked to a vehicle’s infotainment system, as well as Driver Mode, which is a simplified user interface. Both pairing and Driver Mode will reduce the potential for unsafe driver distraction by limiting the time a driver’s eyes are off the road, while at the same time preserving the full functionality of these devices when they are used at other times.

The proposed Phase 2 Guidelines present two concurrent approaches for mitigating distraction associated with the use of portable and aftermarket devices by drivers.

First, the proposed Guidelines recommend that portable and OE in-vehicle systems be designed so that they can be easily paired to each other and operated through the OE in-vehicle interface. Assuming that the OE in-vehicle interface conforms to the Phase 1 Guidelines, pairing would ensure that the tasks performed by the driver while driving meet the time-based, eye-glance task acceptance criteria specified in the Phase 1

Guidelines. Pairing would also ensure that certain activities that would inherently interfere with the driver’s ability to safely control the vehicle would be locked out while driving (i.e., the “per se lock outs” referred to in the Phase 1 Guidelines). Those per se lock outs include:
• Displaying video not related to driving;
• Displaying certain graphical or photographic images;
• Displaying automatically scrolling text;
• Manual text entry for the purpose of text-based messaging, other communication, or internet browsing; and
• Displaying text for reading from books, periodical publications, web page content, social media content, text-based advertising and marketing, or text-based messages.

The second approach recommended by the proposed Phase 2 Guidelines is that portable devices that do not already meet the NHTSA glance and per se lock out criteria when being used by a driver should include a Driver Mode that is developed by industry stakeholders (i.e., Operating System or handset makers).

The Driver Mode should present an interface to the driver that conforms with the Phase 1 Guidelines and, in particular, locks out tasks that do not meet Phase 1 task acceptance criteria or are among the per se lock outs listed above. The purpose of Driver Mode is to provide a simplified interface when the device is being used unpaired while driving, either because pairing is unavailable or the driver decides not to pair. The Guidelines recommend two methods of activating Driver Mode depending on available technology. The first option, and the one encouraged by the agency, is to automatically activate the portable device’s Driver Mode when: (1) the device is not paired with the in-vehicle system, and (2) the device, by itself, or in conjunction with the vehicle in which it is being used, distinguishes that it is being used by a driver who is driving. The driver mode does not activate when the device is being used by a non-driver, e.g., passenger.

NHTSA continues to urge the driving public to take the following safety precautions to minimize distraction while driving:

  • Be a safe, distraction-free driver, put your cell phone down and focus on the road;
  • When using electronic devices for directions, set the destination prior to driving;
  • Speak up when you’re a passenger and your driver uses an electronic device while driving. Offer to call or text for the driver, so his or her full attention stays on the driving task; and
  • Always wear your seat belt. Seat belts are the best defense against other unsafe drivers

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association (CTA) issued a statement about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announcing extreme Phase 2 guidelines:

“Driving while distracted is unsafe and unacceptable – a driver’s highest priority must be maintaining safe control of the vehicle at all times. Tech companies have created driver-assist technologies and apps that reduce or eliminate distractions such as drowsiness, in-car adjustments or texting while driving. Popular Bluetooth solutions, driver-monitoring systems and do-not-disturb apps are helping initiate corrective actions when drivers lose focus. The technology industry has also made great strides in raising awareness of the dangers of distracted driving through initiatives such as ‘It Can Wait.’

“NHTSA’s approach to distracted driving is disturbing. Rather than focus on devices which could reduce drunk driving, they have chosen to exceed their actual authority and regulate almost every portable device. This regulatory overreach could thwart the innovative solutions and technologies that help drivers make safer decisions from ever coming to market. Further, NHTSA doesn’t have the authority to dictate the design of smartphone apps and other devices used in cars – its legal jurisdiction begins and ends with motor vehicle equipment. In this instance, NHTSA’s regulatory premise is dangerously expansive, representing the worst of government overreach. Under their vision, they would have the influence to control the design of technology products down to the fitness tracker worn on a driver. Such a vast and extreme expansion of NHTSA’s authority, if it were to happen, would have to be explicitly granted by Congress.

“This attempt by the outgoing administration to push out highly-questionable, de facto regulations and expand its regulatory reach flies in the face of Congress’ order not to issue any new actions before the new administration takes office. We encourage NHTSA to rethink its approach on this issue, work with innovators to bring technology solutions to drivers and focus on areas within its jurisdiction – bringing self-driving vehicles to market and eliminating the majority of roadway deaths.”

CTA supports common-sense measures to address distracted driving, such as state legislation that bans texting while driving and places strict limits on the use of electronics by novice drivers. More, we believe the shift in technology – including active collision avoidance and self-driving cars – is much more fruitful and important area for NHTSA focus.