The automakers, through the Auto Alliance trade group, responded with cautious approval, saying the guidelines should be extended to cover hand-held devices so that drivers don’t try to circumvent restrictions on factory-installed electronics.
“Our concern is that limiting built-in systems without simultaneously addressing portable devices could result in drivers choosing not to connect their phones in order to access the functionality they want,” the Alliance said in a statement. “That would be a troubling outcome, given the [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] finding announced today that visual-manual tasks associated with hand-held phones and other portable devices increase crash risk by three times.”
LaHood’s announcement came the same day as the release of a study concluding that voice-activated text-messaging systems are just as distracting to drivers as systems that require tapping out messages on a keypad. The study by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University underscored the challenge of developing technology to address distracted driving.
The report found that even when using a voice-activated device, drivers take their eyes of the road and lose a significant degree of their focus on the roadway.
About 3,300 people a year die in crashes attributed to distracted driving, with 387,000 more injured in 2011, federal data show. A survey this year by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that almost 35 percent of drivers said that they had recently read text messages or e-mail while driving, and 26 percent said they had sent a text message.
The Auto Alliance statement said, “Portable phones and navigation devices are everywhere, and consumers are using these devices in their vehicles. We need all the stakeholders engaged and working together to find a way to keep our society connected as safely as possible. Pairing mobile phones with our built-in systems designed for driving is a top priority.”
The voluntary NHTSA guidelines would limit access to devices that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or their eyes off the road. They would limit the time a driver takes his eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and 12 seconds total.
The guidelines also call for automakers to disable several types of devices unless the vehicle is stopped and shifted into park, including those that require manual text entry for messaging and Internet browsing; video entertainment and communications such as video phoning or video conferencing; and display of text messages, Web page and social media content.
The recommendations were drawn from a new NHTSA study that showed that visual-manual use of hand-held devices tripled the risk of getting into a crash.“The new study strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver’s focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times,” said David L. Strickland, NHTSA administrator.
The study found that drivers are most likely to be distracted by text messaging, Web browsing and dialing. Unlike earlier research, the study did not find an increased crash risk from talking on a cellphone.