NHTSA Proposes New Guidelines to Limit Distracted Driving

NHTSA’s Voluntary Guidelines Involve Changes to Devices and Apps

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new, voluntary guidelines to the manufacturers and developers of electronic devices, apps, and smartphones to create products that, when used by drivers, limit distraction.

The guidelines seek to have mobile and electronic devices contain features that include pairing (a portable device is linked, or paired with the vehicle’s infotainment system); “Driver Mode” (a simplified user interface similar to “Airplane Mode”); and for some mobile phone functionality to be disabled when paired with the vehicle. These include, playing most videos, text entry for messaging or internet browsing, and displaying social media content, according to the Star Tribune.

“Far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These commonsense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road.”

Parker Waichman LLP has decades of experience representing clients who were injured or died in vehicular crashes and in crashes involving distracted driving. The firm continues to offer free legal consultations to individuals with questions about filing a distracted driving lawsuit.

The attention surrounding distracted driving has been increasing after United States highway deaths rose to 35,092 in 2015, representing the greatest one-year increase since 1966, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT attributed the 7.2 percent rise in highway deaths to increased driving, drivers operating vehicles while intoxicated, speeding, and distracted driving due to use of a phone and other devices, noted the Star Tribune. Data reveals that some 10 percent of 2015 fatal crashes involved at least one distracted driver, leading to 3,477 deaths, according to the NHTSA. Distracted driving was also involved in 16 percent of the over 5.6 million crashes in 2014, which is the most recent year in which this data is available, according to the NHTSA. Also, of the 967,000 distraction crashes in 2014, seven percent involved use of a cell phone and led to some 33,000 injuries.

According to the NHTSA, the pairing and “Driver Mode” features will lower the possibility for driver distraction by reducing for how long a driver’s eyes are not on the road while maintaining the full functionality of the device when used at other times. “NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. “With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong—on the road,” he added, reported the Star Tribune.

The Consumerist points out that pairing should block the driver’s ability to play videos, view photos, read or send text messages, browse the internet, or read books and other publications.“NHTSA encourages all entities involved with the engineering and design of pairing technologies to jointly develop compatible and efficient processes that focus on improving the usability and ease of connecting a driver’s portable device with their in-vehicle system,” the guidelines state.

“Driver Mode” would be similar to what is known today as “Airplane Mode,” a function that turns off a device’s wireless communications during flight. The “Driver Mode” would block specific distracting apps or options on phones from being used when the mode is enabled. Today, “Airplane Mode” is turned on and off by the device user. The agency seeks to have “Driver Mode” automatically activated when a device is not paired with the in-vehicle system or if the device distinguishes that it is being used by the driver,” explained The Consumerist. Until this type of user-detection technology become available, the agency notes that manual activation of Driver Mode should be made available.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Democrat-Minnesota) has fought to end distracted driving and applauded the revised guidelines. “I have met with families across Minnesota that have lost loved ones when a driver took his or her eyes off the road, and their heartbreaking stories remind us that stopping distracted driving is a matter of life and death,” she said. “Smartphone manufacturers and app developers have a role to play in addressing the spike in distracted driving, and I hope the proposed voluntary guidelines will help move this conversation forward and reinforce the message that no text, tweet, or snap is worth dying for,” she said, according to the Star Tribune.

Despite Industry Pushback, Manufacturers, Developers, and Lawmakers Seek to Reduce Distracted Driving

Not unsurprisingly, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association feels the NHTSA has overstepped. “NHTSA doesn’t have the authority to dictate the design of smartphone apps and other devices used in cars—its legal jurisdiction begins and ends with motor vehicle equipment,” he said. “NHTSA’s approach to distracted driving is disturbing. Rather than focus on devices which could reduce drunk driving, they have chosen to exceed their actual authority and regulate almost every portable device,” the Star Tribune reported.

According to The Consumerist, despite this, some manufacturers, app developers, and lawmakers have begun working on ways to reduce distracted driving associated with mobile phones. Also, most states have banned or have restricted texting when driving; however, smartphones continue to present a fatal distraction to drivers. Such distractions include Tweeting, Snapchatting, playing Pokémon Go, or texting while driving.

The recent NHTSA proposal is the agency’s second. Its first proposal focused on devices or systems built into vehicles at the time of manufacture. The new proposal reaches out to electronics developers such as Apple, Samsung, and others to reduce the functionality of their devices when a vehicle is in motion, The Consumerist explained.

The NHTSA was prompted to issue the second guideline proposal with the rise of apps and other features, leading them to seek ways in which to limit drivers’ use of cell phones while driving. According to the NHTSA, crashes have significantly been increasing with the rise of Pokémon Go and SnapChat’s miles-per-hour filter when driving.

Filing a Distracted Driving Lawsuit

If you or someone you know is interested in filing a distracted driving lawsuit, contact one of our personal injury lawyers today. Parker Waichman offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. For more information, call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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