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NHTSA Releases New Guidelines to Combat Distracted Driving

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released voluntary guidelines Tuesday to help automakers minimize the risk of distracted driving. The new guidelines are designed to reduce distractions created by technology that’s built into vehicles, such as navigation and infotainment systems.

“Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a press release. "These guidelines recognize that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need."

NHTSA suggests that in-car tech features should only require a driver to take his or her eyes off the road for two seconds at a time, and a maximum of 12 seconds per task. Additionally, certain vehicle functions should be disabled unless the car is stopped and in park, which include:

  • Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and Internet browsing
  • Video-based entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing
  • Display of certain types of text, including text messages, web pages and  social media content

NHTSA came up with its new guidelines after it conducted a study, which “showed that visual-manual tasks associated with hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.” The greatest distractions include sending text messages, browsing and dialing phone numbers. Sending a text message takes a driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds, which doubles the danger of a crash or near-crash. The study also suggests that activities like dialing a phone number, searching a phone’s contact list and reaching for a cell phone triples the risk of a collision.

Many automakers already lock drivers out of some settings when a vehicle is in motion. USA Today reports that Honda navigation systems have not allowed drivers to enter addresses if the vehicle is in motion since 2012. However, that’s not the case with every automaker. “BMW encourages voice activation and doesn't allow video displays while a car is moving, but does allow manual inputs.” USA Today reports that Tesla also allows drivers to make adjustments by hand, but that software updates have made “more use of controls on steering wheels, which are considered less distracting than buttons on navigation screens.”

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