What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics

What DOT’s new distraction guidelines mean for telematics

The telematics industry is a bit like the Wild Wild West these days, an open frontier where anyone with an idea for in-vehicle connectivity can set out in pursuit of it and bring it to market. Where some solutions allow drivers to scroll through apps like Facebook or Twitter on an embedded screen while a vehicle is in motion, others lock those apps down completely during driving time. Some solutions offer voice-to-text, others Bluetooth, others steering wheel control. To date, there is no overarching governing body or guideline to regulate the innovation.

With the announcement of a new set of proposed guidelines for distracted driving, however, the Department of Transportation seems poised to put the kibosh on the in-vehicle infotainment free for all. The proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop “less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices and would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering, and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle. (For more on distracted driving, see Why telematics is the answer to distracted driving and Driver distraction: The battle over in-car apps.)

Real-world guidance

The guidelines stem from the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and were announced just days after President Obama’s 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action. 

“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers,” says NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who spoke last year at TU Detroit. “The guidelines we’re proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want, without disrupting a driver’s attention or sacrificing safety.”

At TU Detroit, Strickland reminded audience members of the dire statistics. Roughly 33,000 people die each year in cars; driver distraction is cited for roughly 5,500 of those deaths. “I’m putting everyone on notice,” he said at the time. “The car is not a mobile device; it’s a car.”

The new guidelines formalize that notice. Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the proposed guidelines recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving.

Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices. (For more on ADAS technology like this, see V2X telematics: Taking ADAS to the next level.)

The proposed distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

·       Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;

·       Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);

·       Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;

·       Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;

·       Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation. 

The proposed guidelines would also recommend disabling the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

·       Visual-manual text messaging;

·       Visual-manual Internet browsing;

·       Visual-manual social media browsing;

·       Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;

·       Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;

·       Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

Mobile communications devices

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smartphones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices. 

The Phase I guidelines were published in the Federal Register. Members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input. The NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment.  The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on distracted driving, visit V2X Safety & Mobility 2012 USA on March 20-21 in Novi, MI.

For more all the latest telematics trends, check out Telematics for Fleet Management Europe 2012 on March 26-27 in Amsterdam, Content & Apps for Automotive 2012 on April 18-19 in Germany, Insurance Telematics Europe 2012 on May 9-10 in London, Telematics Detroit 2012 on June 6-7, and Insurance Telematics USA 2012 in September in Chicago.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports on In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.

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