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Feds propose built-in limits on driving distractions

By Jim Barnett, CNN
updated 1:11 PM EST, Thu February 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The guidelines propose limiting manual inputs on devices
  • Officials also suggest disabling in-vehicle electronic devices, except for passengers
  • The NTSB has called for a full ban on using cell phones and text messaging while driving

Washington (CNN) -- For the first time, the federal government is proposing recommendations that would encourage car manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices, the Department of Transportation announced Thursday.

The voluntary guidelines issued by the department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would establish specifics for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured -- devices that require visual or manual operation by drivers.

It could also mean drivers will not be allowed to text or dial numbers while the car is moving.

"We have been on a crusade for more than three years," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in making the announcement in a conference call with reporters. He said the guidelines will "continue the drumbeat" as one of the department's top safety initiatives.

More than 3,000 people died in 2010 in crashes blamed on distracted driving.

The initial proposed guidelines "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," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The recommendations include reducing the complexity and task length required by the device, limiting device operation to one hand (leaving the other hand on the steering wheel to control the vehicle), cutting down to no more than two seconds the individual off-road glances required for device operation and limiting unnecessary visual information in the driver's field of view. They also suggest limiting the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed department guidelines would also recommend disabling a number of in-vehicle electronic devices while the car is moving, unless the devices are being used by passengers and cannot "reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver."

These various operations include visual-manual text messaging, Internet and social media browsing, 10-digit phone dialing, navigation system destination entries by address and displaying more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering additional voluntary guidelines in the future that might address electronic devices not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle such as smart phones, electronic tablets and pads and GPS.

Strickland said transportation officials have met with individual automakers and while the proposed guidelines are voluntary, he "doesn't expect them to be a burden."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a coalition of 12 car and light truck manufacturers which helped develop the nonbinding guidelines, said in a statement it will review the recommendations. "Consumers expect to have access to new technology, so integrating and adapting this technology to enable safe driving is the solution," said AAM spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist.

President Barak Obama called for $330 million over six years in the 2012 federal budget for distracted driving programs to increase awareness of the problem.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the first phase of the proposals, which were published in the Federal Register. There will be a series of public hearings next month in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago to discuss the federal guidelines.

Last December, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a nationwide ban on the use of cell phones and text messaging devices while driving. It would apply to hands-free as well as hand-held devices, but devices installed in the vehicle by the manufacturer would be allowed, the NTSB said. The recommendation would not affect passengers' rights to use such devices.

At any given daylight moment, some 13.5 million drivers are on hand-held phones, according to a recent study by NHTSA.

CNN's Mike Ahlers contributed to this report

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