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Feds to carmakers: 'Rein in high-tech dashboards'

Facebooking at highway speeds not a good idea

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The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued its first-ever guidelines designed to curb driver-distracting dashboards stuffed with electronic gadgets, gimcrackery, and gee-gaws

"These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages," said US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood when announcing the proposed guidelines.

The NHTSA's proposals aren't rules – they're voluntary guidelines to, well, guide automakers as they tart up their cars with what the agency calls "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle."

Specifically, the guidelines recommend that a number of features be disabled unless the vehicle is not only stopped, but its transmission has been put in park (no mention is made of manual transmissions), or if the display is situated in such a way as to be used only by passengers and "cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver."

These verboten features include visual and/or manual access to text messaging, internet browsing, social media browsing, entering addresses into a GPS, 10-digit phone dialing, and the display to the driver of "more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task."

The guidelines also suggest that the designers of displays the driver can see while motoring create interfaces that reduce complexity of driver input – one hand only, please – and cut back on unnecessary information. The time required to glance at the display should limited to two seconds of eyes-off-the-road time.

Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers – an organization whose own guidelines formed the basis of the NHTSA proposal – suggests that the motionless-and-in-park rule is a wee bit too stringent.

"There are often passengers in the car who can enter addresses," Bergquist told the Associated Press, "so we need to consider that when looking at requiring these technologies to only be used in park. And if the GPS is disabled when moving, consumers can always bring their own Garmin into the vehicle. It's complicated."

The NHTSA guidelines follow on the heels of the US National Transportation Safety Board's call for all 50 states to outlaw the used of "personal electronic devices" – phones and tablets, for example – while driving. That recommendation was prompted in part by a fatal accident caused by a fatigued 19-year-old driver who had sent and received 11 text messages in the 11 minutes before he plowed into a truck-tractor that had slowed in a construction zone. ®

Bootnote

While The Reg is heartily in agreement that a driver shouldn't update his Facebook page while hurtling down the highway, we'd be remiss if we didn't also remind our readers that a 2010 study determined that car accidents actually increased a bit after handheld mobile phone talking and texting bans were enacted in California, Louisiana, and Minnesota.

"This unexpected consequence of banning texting suggests that texting drivers have responded to the law," the study noted, "perhaps by attempting to avoid fines by hiding their phones from view. If this causes them to take their eyes off the road more than before the ban, then the bans may make texting more dangerous rather than eliminating it."

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