NHTSA Releases Guidelines for Reducing Electronic Device Distractions in Cars

The U.S. Department of Transportation this past week released distraction guidelines that encourage car manufacturers to limit the risk connected to electronic devices built into their vehicles, such as communications, entertainment and navigation devices.

The Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) guidelines establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes of the road to use them.

The guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds total. The guidelines also recommend disabling several operations unless the vehicle is stopped and in park, such as:
■Manual text entry for the purposes of text messaging and internet browsing;
■Video-based entertainment and communications like video phoning or video conferencing;
■Display of certain types of text, including text messages, web pages, social media content.
Findings of a new NHTSA naturalistic driving study showed that visual-manual tasks associated with hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times. The study found text messaging, browsing, and dialing resulted in the longest duration of driver’s taking their eyes-off-road. Text messaging increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by two times and resulted in the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total. Visual-manual activities performed when completing a phone call – such as reaching for a phone, looking up a contact and dialing the number – increased the risk by three times.