DOT "distrated driving" rules would limit cars' info systems

5:09 PM, Feb 16, 2012   |    comments
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Washington, DC -- The Transportation Department announced first-ever guidelines aimed at preventing distracted driving that would eliminate the ability to do a lot of infotainment functions while the car is moving.

In particular, drivers could not "visual-manual" text message, browse the Internet, look at their Facebook accounts, key in an address into the navigation system, input a phone number or see more than 30 characters of any incoming message unless the car is stopped and out of gear.

When the car is moving, messages and other infotainment tasks would be limited to two-second glances and one-hand operation. Voice-command systems are being encouraged as an alternative.

Many cars now limit these tasks or try to accomplish them with voice commands. But David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says there are many others that do not limit tasks in the car. "There are some automakers that have no strategy at all" in terms of infotainment safety, he said. The agency believes distracted  driving claimed 3,000 lives in 2010 alone.

Now, the Transportation Department which oversees NHTSA, is proposing that cars be limited when it comes to features that district drivers. "We think this is the right approach," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a call with reporters. The rules aim 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).
  • Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds.
  • Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver's field of view.
  • Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

"We all need to take personal responsibility," said Secretary Ray LaHood. "We started this campaign three years ago when no one was taking about distracted driving." Now more states are passing laws aimed at reducing distracted driving. "We've made a lot of progress. This is our continued drumbeat."

Strickland was careful to say NHTSA isn't against technology, GPS in particular. He says GPS helps safety by eliminating the need for drivers to fumble around to try to look at maps, which was even more distracting.

NHTSA has plans for hearings around the country on the proposed rule. "They want these devices and want this functionality. We just want to make sure they do in the zone of safety," Strickland says. "We're trying to make sure if they are used in the vehicle, they are used in a safe way."

Chris Woodyard, USA Today