The federal government is looking to improve safety on the roads by having cell phone manufacturers limit what drivers can do on their devices while in the car.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommended two types of safety measures that mobile device makers may implement in guidelines published Nov. 23.
The guidelines are not regulations, but rather “voluntary and non-binding” recommendations, NHTSA says. The document notes, however, that NHTSA does have authority to regulate mobile electronic devices “to the extent these technologies function as ‘motor vehicle equipment.'”
NHTSA recommends that drivers put their phones with the car to enable voice-only control. If that’s not available, or the driver chooses not to pair the device, cell phones should have a special “Driver Mode” that would “provide a simplified interface” and lock out certain functions, NHTSA says.
In addition to the simplified interface, a device in Driver Mode would prohibit users from typing manually, would block video and still images, and lock automatically scrolling text like ebooks or webpages.
“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,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
NHTSA says that 3,477 people were killed during traffic accidents that included at least one distracted driver, which accounts for about 10 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2015. Distracted drivers were involved in 16 percent of the 5.6 million non-fatal car crashes in 2014, NHTSA said.
“NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive,” NHTSA administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind said.
“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.”
Industry trade group Consumer Technology Association (CTA) expresses concerns about NHTSA’s authority to regulate cell phones and other electronic devices.
“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,” Gary Shapiro, CEO of CTA, told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “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.”
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