Limits sought on electronic driver distractions

WASHINGTON Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:39pm EST

A driver uses his smart phone while in traffic in Encinitas, California December 10, 2009.   REUTERS/Mike Blake

A driver uses his smart phone while in traffic in Encinitas, California December 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration wants limits on vehicle features that allow drivers to text and make cellphone calls while the car is moving, the centerpiece of a broader effort to curb distracted driving.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed voluntary steps for automakers on Thursday that would establish new safety criteria for hands-free calling, navigation, and entertainment systems that have become common in new cars and trucks.

The guidelines are mainly an attempt to reach younger drivers, who are the most inexperienced and whose daily lives are most influenced by wireless technology.

"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," LaHood said.

The latest government figures show that roughly 10 percent of U.S. traffic deaths in 2010, or 3,092 people, were linked to distracted driving.

Most states ban texting while driving but fewer than a dozen prohibit any cell phone use by a motorist. Congress has shown no interest in limiting either practice.

The Transportation Department guidelines introduced on Thursday recommend that automakers adopt technology to disable distracting electronic systems that are accessible to the driver -- but not passengers -- when a car is moving.

This would cover text messaging, Internet browsing, and access to social media.

The proposal is a compromise for LaHood, who stopped short of ordering that General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co, Fiat SpA's Chrysler Group LLC and other manufacturers restrict hands-free and other dashboard advances popular with consumers and key selling points in new vehicles.

Automakers said through their lead Washington trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, that they would review the government's proposal. But they said elements of it borrow from industry practices established more than a decade ago.

Moreover, they said that hands-free technology is designed to help drivers keep their eyes on the road.

"Consumers expect to have access to new technology, so integrating and adapting this technology to enable safe driving is the solution," the group said in a statement.

The proposed Transportation Department guidelines are subject to a 60-day public comment period. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will hold hearings in March in Los Angeles, Washington and Chicago.

(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Gerald E. McCormick)

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Comments (6)
smurph wrote:
We should not measure traffic deaths, but rather accidents, with notation of % that result in death. COnsider accidents on congested freeways tha tie up traffic for hours. Accidents caused by distracted or otherwise dangerous / illegal driving cause significant loss of time for thousands of people. This egocentric behavior (texting, cell calls, speeding) that puts others at risk, causes personal injury and/ or property damage, or causes significant inconvenience for hundreds if not thousands per occurrence should not be tolerated.

Feb 16, 2012 11:04am EST  --  Report as abuse
SilentBoy741 wrote:
If you disable in-vehicle electronics, drivers will just use electronics that aren’t part of the vehicle, such as their iPhones, unless you build the car with a signal jammer, which wouldn’t be approved because the phone would be disabled during an emergency.

The only mechanism that would truly work is a sensor in the steering wheel the detects whether one of the driver’s hands is off the wheel for more than 20 seconds, or if both hands are off for more than 3 seconds, then shuts off the engine for 10 minutes. If the car is in Park, the sensors are disabled. You have to make the solution more inconvenient than the problem, otherwise people will just ignore it.

Feb 16, 2012 11:46am EST  --  Report as abuse
Ashau wrote:
Limiting the ability of a driver to use the hands-free features available in most automobiles today will not lead to less use of cell phones while driving. What it will do is cause drivers to go back to actually looking down at their cellphone to dial a number and have to actually stick the thing up to their ear to talk…..a much more hazardous practice than using an auto’s hands-free capability. Does this administration think anything out before “shooting from the hip with another regulation or restriction?

Feb 16, 2012 12:24pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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