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The NHTSA Issues New Distracted Driving Guidelines and Recommendations

The NHTSA Issues New Distracted Driving Guidelines and Recommendations

By Jeff Youngs, April 24, 2013
The U.S. Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued new guidelines to auto manufacturers designed to limit driver distraction associated with communications, entertainment, and navigation devices. Compliance with the NHTSA distracted driving guidelines is voluntary, and not required by law.

"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "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."

The new NHTSA distracted driving recommendations pertain to in-vehicle technology that requires the driver to remove their hands from the steering wheel or eyes away from the road to use properly. The guidelines say that each instance of distraction must last no longer than two seconds, with a total maximum of 12 seconds of distraction to accomplish an individual task.

Additionally, the guidelines recommend that automakers disable certain functions unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission is placed in Park. These include manual text message entry or keyboard operation for in-car Internet use, text message and social media content displays, and video-based entertainment and communications systems visible to the driver.

A new NHTSA naturalistic driving study, The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk, finds that when drivers engage in visual-manual tasks associated with handheld cell phones and other portable devices they increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times. The study says that the most distracting tasks drivers perform while behind the wheel are associated with making a phone call, Internet browsing, and text messaging. According to the study, a driver engaged in text messaging while behind the wheel takes their eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds, double the length of distraction time recommended by the new guidelines.

Notably, the study did not correlate the specific act of talking on a phone with increased risk of a crash; however, because portable hands-free and integrated hands-free communication systems still require visual-manual tasks, they increase the risk of a crash through driver distraction.

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