Released as a set of voluntary guidelines aimed at encouraging vehicle manufacturers to reduce the number of electronic interfaces that require drivers to take their hands off the wheel or eyes of the road, the NHTSA recommendations suggest a driver mustn’t take their eyes off the road to perform any task for longer than two seconds at a time or a total of twelve seconds.
The guidelines also recommend several operations be disabled unless the vehicle is stopped and in park, including manual text entry for either text messaging or internet browsing, video-based entertainment and communications inclusive of video phoning or video conferencing, and display of text messages, web pages and social media content.
The NHTSA recommendations follow a recent study by the administration into the naturalistic driving of drivers using mobile phones – titled The Impact of Hand-Held and Hands-Free Cell Phone Use on Driving Performance and Safety Critical Event Risk – that showed that visual-manual tasks associated with hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of a crash by three times.
US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said the guidelines recognised today's drivers’ appreciation of in-car technology, while providing manufacturers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the level of safety required.
"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways,” LaHood said.
“Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives."
NHTSA administrator David Strickland said the new study – which found text messaging, browsing, and dialling resulted in drivers taking their eyes off the road for an average of 23.3 seconds total – strongly suggests that visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver's focus and increase their risk of getting into a crash by up to three times.
"The new guidelines and our ongoing work with our state partners across the country will help us put an end to the dangerous practice of distracted driving by limiting the amount of time drivers take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel and their attention away from the task of driving."
While the NHTSA study found that manual-visual interactions involved with using a hand-held phone made their overall use 1.73 times more risky, no direct increase in crash risk was found from the specific act of talking on a mobile phone.
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