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).