NHTSA issues 'distraction guidelines' proposal for in-vehicle electronics, MyFord Touch frets

With companies like Tesla and Ford replacing tactile, in-dash systems with touchscreens and gizmos, the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration wants to set "distraction guidelines" for how automakers implement factory-installed in-car electronics. Nearly a year after discussing the possibility of bringing restrictions to in-car information, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unveiled phase one of a (potential) three-part, "first-ever federal proposal" loaded with suggestions for keeping driver's eyes and attention on the road. Notably, these voluntary guidelines take aim at "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle." According to Reuters, though, the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers claims that "elements" of the guidelines have been in practice for nearly ten years.

The ideas range from ensuring that one hand is always left free for steering and restricting the entry of text, such as an address, unless the your car is in park, to limiting in-dash text prompts to "no more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task" so that your eyes can't wander off of the road for too long. Passengers, of course, would be free to do whatever they wish. Vehicles under 10,000 pounds are said to be the primary focus, with the NHTSA noting that electronic warning systems will not be on the radar as they intend to help drivers, well, drive. Before the proposal spins into action, beginning in March it will be up for public comment for 60 days L.A., Washington D.C. and Chicago. Depending on how the phase one guidelines pan out, phase two will focus on devices brought into vehicles, like cellphones, while phase three would set its sights on voice controls. If you're curious about all of the specifics, you'll find more info in the press release after the break and the full proposal draft at the source link below.

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U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes 'Distraction' Guidelines for Automakers

Proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop "less distracting" in-vehicle electronic devices

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices. The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.

Issued by the Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama's FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.

"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways – that's why I've made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel," said Secretary LaHood. "These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."

Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the guidelines proposed today are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA plans to issue to address sources of distraction that require use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.

In particular, the Phase I proposed guidelines released today recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver's eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving. Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices.

"We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today's American drivers," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "The guidelines we're proposing 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."

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;
Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);
Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;
Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver's field of view;
Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

Visual-manual text messaging;
Visual-manual internet browsing;
Visual-manual social media browsing;
Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;
Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;
Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

The Phase I guidelines were published in today's Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.

NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment. The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C