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NHTSA’s distracted driving guidelines

John Day

John Day

Posted Feb 21, 2012

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued guidelines on distracted driving earlier this month, essentially suggesting that automakers not do what, to my knowledge, they are already not doing, at least in the U.S., such as “displaying images or video not related to driving; displaying automatically scrolling text; requiring manual text entry of more than six button or key presses during a single task; or requiring reading more than 30 characters of text (not counting punctuation marks).”

Perhaps wanting to tread carefully, given the current political climate, NHTSA cited the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers’ “Statement of Principles, Criteria and Verification Procedures on Driver-Interactions with Advanced In-Vehicle Information and Communication Systems” as the most complete and up-to-date guidelines it could find.

NHTSA referenced crash data indicating that 899,000 (about 17 percent) of all police-reported crashes in 2010 involved some type of driver distraction in 2010, and 26,000 of those (3 percent) involved a device or control integral to the vehicle.

So NHTSA suggests that in-vehicle devices should be designed so that drivers can’t use them to perform “secondary, non-driving-related tasks that interfere with a driver’s ability to safely control the vehicle” while the driver is driving. Drivers should be prevented from watching video footage, visual-manual text messaging, visual-manual internet browsing, or visual-manual social media browsing while driving.

Further, devices should be designed so that tasks can be completed by the driver with glances away from the roadway of two seconds or less and cumulative eyes off the road time of 12 seconds or less, or that the driver can complete a task in a series of 1.5 second glances in a total of nine seconds or less.

Why bother with the obvious? Presumably to indicate (a) that NHTSA is serious about combating distracted driving and (b) it has the authority to ramp from voluntary guidelines to mandatory standards. It referred to these as the “first phase” of distracted driving guidelines. Bottom line, “pay attention – we’re serious.”

Distracted Driving, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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