Guidelines Aim to Reduce Distracted Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a series of proposed guidelines yesterday to minimize distracted driving.

The guidelines, which are voluntary, encourage the manufacturers of cars, light trucks, and SUVs to simplify their communication and infotainment systems, so drivers won't need more than a few seconds to use a device. The proposals would not apply to safety features, such as electronic collision warning systems.

The Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the NHTSA, has suggested a phased-in approach for compliance.

The Phase I guidelines include these recommendations:

  • 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 proposal also suggests disabling these operations while the vehicle is in motion:

  • 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.
  • The DOT does not intend to penalize carmakers that don't implement the guidelines.

    Related posts:

    29 comments on “Guidelines Aim to Reduce Distracted Driving

      February 19, 2012

      Compared to Western European driving regulations the USA is quite relaxed about driving while distracted.  I believe these are good measures to implement and will result in fewer accidents.

    2. Susan Fourtané
      February 19, 2012

      “The DOT does not intend to penalize carmakers that don't implement the guidelines.”


      If the DOT does not intent to apply any penalizations for non-implementation, what's the point of the guidelines? It would be great if carmakers follow the guidelines, but let's face it, carmakers will do what is best for the business, and that is to give all the distractions the consumers are asking for. 



    3. Susan Fourtané
      February 19, 2012


      I believe there are big differences in traffic safety between Europe and the U.S. However, this doesn't mean there is a big difference in traffic deaths. This comparative study is interesting. How much do you think things have changed since then? 

      From a study published in 2007 :  “ In 2005 Sweden recorded its lowest number of fatalities since the 1940s, while the US recorded its highest number in 15 years. The Swedish total is 66% below the highest number recorded in Sweden (in 1966), while the US total is only 20% below the highest number recorded in the US (in 1972). If the US total had dropped from its high by the same percent as the Swedish total did, in 2005 the US would have suffered 18,293 traffic deaths, 25,150 fewer than the actual total of 43,443. Despite this enormous difference in safety improvement between the US and Sweden, the distributions of US and Swedish fatalities by age and sex are found to be similar.”


    4. Taimoor Zubar
      February 19, 2012

      I have a feature on my smarphone which allows me to use the phone through voice commands while I'm driving. I can make call to a contact, browse maps or switch songs etc all through voice commands. I think all the devices in cars should allow user the option to give voice commands as input to perform various functions. Would certainly help in reducing distraction.

    5. Taimoor Zubar
      February 19, 2012

      carmakers will do what is best for the business, and that is to give all the distractions the consumers are asking for.”

      @Susan: I don't think consumers ask for distractions. Consumers are themselves concerned about their security. Consumers ask for options and features that they can use while driving for their entertainment and ease. If two car makers are providing the same options to the consumers and one of them is providing a safer way to use these features while driving, consumers would surely go for that brand of car. This way, if a car maker invests into following these guidelines and making the driving safe, they will get a better response from the consumers.

    6. Susan Fourtané
      February 19, 2012


      Yes, voice command could be the way to avoid visual distraction, and maybe reduce other types of distractions. About the entertainment part, well, watching a video or a slide show while driving doesn't seem to be quite appropriate for several reasons, unless you want to transform your car into your new mobile office. 



    7. Susan Fourtané
      February 19, 2012


      I should be able to remember where I read about this, but yes, it seems like carmakers are just adding the distractions consumers are asking for. This is not something I just made up, you see. 🙂 

      I agree in adding useful features, but updating Facebook startus and Tweets don't really seem to be useful enough to be done while driving. 


    8. Anne
      February 19, 2012

      It would be a good thing if DOT can make it compulsory and penalise any carmaker that doesn't implement disabling of these distractive features.  

    9. prabhakar_deosthali
      February 20, 2012

      DOT should impose penalties on car makers who fail to adhere to these guidelines. Then only such guidelines will become effective. If a distracting  feature is automatically disabled  during the drivering then the safety will be forced onto the drivers and not be at the mercy of the subjective judgement of the driver. about what is distracting and what is not.

    10. Adeniji Kayode
      February 20, 2012

      Not bad idea to use voice command in cars but are you also suggesting voice command for the braking system of the car too?

    11. Adeniji Kayode
      February 20, 2012

      You are right, but what of the case of in the case of customized cars where a customer can list the features he want in his car and ready to pay too.

    12. tioluwa
      February 20, 2012

      I think this could lead to something good. Even if DOT does not want to penalise manufacturers who don't comply, they should at least offer some sort of certification and approval for those who comply, this could help compel other to respond to creating safer cars

    13. bolaji ojo
      February 20, 2012

      Barbara, After reading through the proposed guidelines, I couldn't but wonder how the automakers are supposed to implement them. How, for instance, do you limit what a driver can look at inside or outside the vehicle — and if you can through software — how do you implement the timing issue? How long am I supposed to glance at my GPS, for instance, and who's timing me? Some of the guidelines simply require the driver to be more responsible behind the wheel and cannot be legislated or even required.

    14. Cryptoman
      February 20, 2012

      I think it is a positive move but I fear it is unlikely to work and is a bit unfair to the car manufacturers. Nothing stops the third party devices to be used in the cars according to this law. It simply prevents the “distractive” features to come as standard in cars.

      If the real issue is personal and driving safety here, the law should be extended to prohibit the “use” of distractive infotainment systems in cars. Therefore, the liability should be shifted to the drivers, which I think where the weakest link in the chain lies.

      This law will simply boost the sales of the third party in-car infotainment device manufacturers because most drivers fill go and buy the missing features from them. As a result, the driving safety will remain as a problem.


    15. Taimoor Zubar
      February 20, 2012

      @Adeniji: Of course not 🙂 I'm suggesting the use of voice-activated commands for controlling the systems within the car like audio player, GPS navigator etc.

    16. bolaji ojo
      February 20, 2012

      Cryptoman, As Barbara wrote in a previous message will legislation solve entire problems of driver distraction? There's no law against reading while driving (there's a law about distraction but not that specific). What happens in the gray areas? The regulators may end up prescribing all kinds of laws and adding more and more to these as consumers add to the things they do behind the wheel.

    17. Adeniji Kayode
      February 20, 2012

      Good point Bolaji, and that is why i supported those festures not functional when the car is in motion

    18. Anne
      February 20, 2012

      @ Adeniji,

      Considering customized cars, I think there should be a general policy irrespective of the statue either customized or general that no car should have any distractive feature. Driving require total concentration, you can imagine watching movie while driving.

    19. Anne
      February 20, 2012

      I think the carmakers should think more of adding protective features not distrative ones.

    20. ITempire
      February 20, 2012

      Nice info Barb.

      However I think guidelines are not enough. Some of these that you mentioned should be banned (incl. text messaging and internet browsing) and penal action should be taken against carmakers who dont ensure that these features are taken off. Also, orientation/guidelines at the time of license issuance may help take the campaign one step forward so that each driver knows whats allowed and whats illegal/dangerous. 

    21. Eldredge
      February 21, 2012

      I am not a fan of too much legislation, but the list of guidelines provided seems pretty reasonable. It certainly doesn't make sense to enable drivers with too many distracting devices while at the same time implementing legislation to make using them illegal.

    22. vimalkumarp
      February 21, 2012

      Barbara , this is a nice article. These guidelines will definitely improve the workflow and hope that will make an impact similar to the one made by  Rumble strips that is   a significant reduction in highway accidents.  The introdution of haptics based controls will be of great help and importance in realising some of the designs that is within this guideline and framework. Needless to say Safety must be of utmost importance..!

    23. Barbara Jorgensen
      February 21, 2012

      As many readers point out, these guidelines have a lot of flaws. In particular, Bolaji's questions about the 2-second rule (how long should I look at my GPS and who is timing me?) is a classic. Legislators frequently come up with guidelines and give no clue how to implement them. There is also the point that these are voluntary, meaning there is nothing that will force carmakers to implement them.

      Then there is the bigger picture: Can you legislate common sense? You shouldn't have to–drivers should be the judge of how much distraction they can handle. Unfortuantely, every day there is evidence to indicate a lot of people don't use common sense while driving.

      The only way to enforce the 2-second rule is for the data to flash up, stay there 2 second, and then shut off.

      Can you imagine the distractions that will cause?

    24. Mr. Roques
      February 24, 2012

      I agree with the guidelines but it seems we are dealing with kids. People must understand the danger of using the phone while driving (texting has to be 10x more dangerous than talking) and I get afraid everytime I look to the car next to me and see the other person looking down… its very probable he isn't paying attention, and in some degree, my life is in danger.

      Should we rely on the phones? carmakers? … We must rely on the people, or have bigger fines, but I don't want to only depend on technology.

    25. Clairvoyant
      February 24, 2012

      Very true, Mr. Roques. It seems using common sense is not so easy for some people anymore.

    26. Eldredge
      February 25, 2012

      Unfortunate, but true – common sense has become a grand oxymoron.

    27. Mr. Roques
      March 29, 2012

      I believe that bigger fines is the best way to make them understand. It becomes very hard to identify a person using their phone while driving… but maybe someday technology can help us identify that.

    28. Clairvoyant
      March 29, 2012

      That is true. As technology advances, authorities need advancing technology to detect illegal usage.

    29. Mr. Roques
      June 22, 2012

      Hopefully people will try to use technology for good. And with higher fines, they will be slowly forced to do so.

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.