USDOT distracted driving efforts now aimed at auto makers

From Ford website.

I was happy this morning to find a statement from U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood’s office that his war on distracted driving now includes new regulations for automakers. The proposals come as President Obama’s just-released transportation budget includes $330 million to combat the problem.

For the past few years, I’ve been disturbed at the trend to turn cars into one big gadget. Automakers, scared that their vehicles can’t compete with consumers’ growing adoration of smartphones and other devices, now offer all sorts of phone-like conveniences on-board. The result? More distraction, more crashes, more deaths and injuries.

The auto industry’s commitment to safety inside their cars (with airbags, crumple-zones, and so on) while people outside their cars are at ever greater risk, was a troubling gap. (When automakers employ “Infotainment Systems Engineers,” like Ford does, that should raise a red flag.)

In a statement this morning, the USDOT said the proposed regulations, “would encourage manufacturers to develop ‘less distracting’ in-vehicle electronic devices.” The new regulations wouldn’t impose penalties on automakers — these would be “voluntary guidelines” — but it’s a start toward raising awareness that the automakers should play a larger role in the fight against distracted driving.

The guidelines, which have been issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are just the first first phase of what officials say will be an ongoing effort aimed at the auto industry. The key principle in the guidelines is that car manufacturers should ensure the technology in vehicles are, “less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving.”

You can view the entire set of guidelines and background info via this USDOT document (PDF).

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Doug Smart
Doug Smart
10 years ago

1.) Waiting for the Cease and Desist order from Ford about including their graphic in this story. And Jonathan, if it comes, it would be great if you could get something out of them beyond, “Because we said so!”

2.) Why should the moving display of a DVD player with its audio track be required to be out of a driver’s view, but the moving display and audio track of a GPS be ok? Etc., etc. Drivers need to have their head outside of the car, so to speak.

Thanks Secretary LaHood and DOT.

9watts
9watts
10 years ago

“includes $330 million to combat the problem.”

Hm. And who picks up the tab for that? Oh, yeah. tax payers.
Another subsidy from all of us to automobility. And yet, someone’s going to keep arguing that those in cars pay their way, and those on bikes should too. Ha.

rebecca
rebecca
10 years ago
Reply to  9watts

Agreed. For $330M, I’d like the guidelines to be mandatory, not voluntary. Let’s get something with some teeth.

Tourbiker
Tourbiker
10 years ago

gee..only around 30 years past it’s “about time”.
330M to realize “pay attention or die”..when they could of just asked ANY bike rider.

NW Biker
NW Biker
10 years ago

Personally, I think anyone who uses a stupid made up word like “infotainment” (which pains me just to type) should be slapped.

But seriously, I think this is a step in the right direction. When I first heard of DVD players in cars and “mini”vans (an oxymoron if there ever was one), I was taken aback. Who needs to watch a movie on the road anyway?

Of course, if these weren’t just voluntary guidelines, we’d all be safer sooner, but it’s a start.

Jack
Jack
10 years ago
Reply to  NW Biker

I desperately want to watch a movie while driving long distances on the road…or do anything other than stare at the road for hours. But I also want the car to be doing the driving for me so that I’m free to do whatever I feel like doing.

9watts
9watts
10 years ago
Reply to  Jack

(a) rent time in a simulator
(b) take a taxi
(c) let someone else do the driving
(d) buy a train (or movie) ticket

esther c
esther c
10 years ago
Reply to  Jack

Take a train. If only we had a functioning train system

John Lascurettes
10 years ago

Simple solution: all new cars come with a big spike attached to the center column of the steering wheel. Make driving dangerous for the driver again, and they’ll start paying close attention to what they do.

Sigh. I wish we could do that. Cars, SUVs especially, have become living rooms on wheels. Is it any wonder why people behind the wheel don’t pay attention to what’s outside their bubble?

Bravo, LaHood.

Bjorn
Bjorn
10 years ago

there was an article in the WSJ earlier this week about the fact that automakers were feeling that the trend against distracted driving had waned and that they had the green light to put whatever they wanted including 17 inch screens in the dash… I wonder if this is a direct response to that article:

http://ceoutlook.com/2012/02/10/fed-loosening-up-on-driver-distractionwsj/

Jack
Jack
10 years ago

” The second test method uses a visual occlusion technique to
ensure that a driver can complete a task in a series of 1.5 second glances with a cumulative time spent glancing away from the roadway of not more than 9
seconds.”

Something unexpected couldn’t possibly happen in less than 1.5 seconds. Say for example, that road user that you’re following with a ~2 second gap deciding to stop for a pedestrian, leaving you with only a half second to initiate and complete a stop.

I suppose politics == compromise though.

K'Tesh
K'Tesh
10 years ago

I’d hate to see someone get killed by these infotainment systems. I wonder how Ford, and the other car makers will like the resulting penalties from the lawsuits that are surely on their way.

seeshellbike
seeshellbike
10 years ago

Last year I bought a car for commuting and it is a Ford with the Sync system but not the touch screen. I love it because it is all voice activated, phone, music, etc. I don’t see any difference in my level of distraction than when I have my carpool buddies in the car and we are carrying on a conversation. But then again I think that I am a more attentive driver because I am also a bicyclist, always looking out for the next potential conflict . 🙂

Alex
Alex
10 years ago

9 times out of 10 when I see a clearly distracted driver (making a hasty or unsure turn, switching lanes too late, going unusually slow) they have a GPS system running in the front of their car. The high deployment of those things worries me more right now.

At least a DVD doesn’t tell you “Turn left now”.

esther c
esther c
10 years ago

I have blue tooth in my prius and I think I’m able to safely carry on a casual conversation while driving hands free. There are one touch numbers predialed in. I would never hand dial in a number unless at a stop but I don’t know anyone’s numbers anymore anyway. The first thing I tell anyone when I’m on the phone is “i’m in the car” so they realize why they don’t have my primary attention. I would never try to carry on a conversation about something important, making business decisions, etc, while driving. Its basically “hi hon, I’m on my way home. Do you want me to stop at the store or did you get something for dinner?”

The car also has a nav system. It does not allow you to input destinations into the system etc, unless you are stopped. I think perhaps you shouldn’t be able to dial the phone unless stopped except for the one touch.

I think anyone caught texting while driving should have their license taken away and their car impounded.

Kristi Finney
Kristi Finney
10 years ago

This is a good report: http://www.fnal.gov/pub/traffic_safety/files/NSC%20White%20Paper%20-%20Distracted%20Driving%203-10.pdf

I personally now act as if my phone is not even in the car when I’m driving because after researching all types of distracted driving (and drunk driving), it’s just not worth the risk. Before my research I couldn’t see why it would be any different talking to a passenger than talking on a cell (especially hands-free), but now it makes sense.

Here is kind of an extreme example of “inattention blindness”: a cell user was driving the wrong way in a parking lot. I motioned for him to roll down his window and said I wished he wouldn’t drive while talking because my son was killed by a distracted driver. His exact words were “Oh, cool,” and he just drove off while still on his phone. I know he just simply didn’t even hear a word I said because his conversation was more important than anything else.

I realize that my son was killed by a drunk driver, not a cell phone user, but that’s not a distinction that matters to me anymore because they can both kill and/or maim, and really, a cell user doesn’t even have the excuse of being impaired when they make that decision to drive illegally and unsafely.

GlowBoy
GlowBoy
10 years ago

Thanks for speaking up Kristi. I’m sure it must be difficult, but when they’re comfortable doing it we need people like you, whose lives have been touched by dangerous driving, to remind the rest of us of the carnage that is happening all around us.

Drunk driving is still a huge problem, but distracted driving is also killing and maiming an increasing number of people. It will eventually eclipse drunk driving if things keep going the way they’re headed.