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‘Driver Mode’ as a new feature for mobile devices

US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today issued new voluntary guidelines aimed at curbing driver distraction from cell phones and other portable devices, extending the department’s reach to tech firms and app developers.

The guidelines apply to device makers and app developers such as Apple, Google and others. They recommend that companies design their portable devices to be paired with in-car systems, and be operated using the vehicle’s user interface.

The guidelines also recommend disabling certain cell phone functions when paired with a vehicle, such as playing most video, text entry for messaging or internet browsing and displaying social media content.

Also, device makers that do not “lock out” those functions should offer a simplified “driver mode” interface that limits functionality even when not paired with a vehicle’s infotainment or navigation interface, the guidelines recommend.

“As millions of Americans take to the roads for Thanksgiving gatherings, far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

“These common sense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road.”

The guidelines released today are the second phase of recommendations issued by NHTSA to curb distracted driving, following recommendations for in-car systems issued in 2013.

They come as automakers install smart phone integration systems such as Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto in an increasing number of new vehicle models. The systems display a simplified version of Android and Apple smart phone interfaces on vehicle touch screens and offer limited access to some applications and phone functions such as maps, text message dictation and phone use.

NHTSA says 10 percent of the 35,092 fatal crashes in 2015 involved at least one distracted driver, resulting in 3,477 fatalities, up 9 percent from 2014. Distraction was also factor in 16 percent of the 5.6 million non-fatal crashes in 2014, the most recent data available, the agency said.

 

Industry reaction

“We know that it’s critical that we all address distracted driving holistically -- so the Alliance will review these guidelines very carefully,” Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Wade Newton said.

“We believe it’s important to encourage drivers to use in-vehicle systems rather than handheld personal electronic devices that were not engineered for use in the driving environment.” 

A major trade group representing the consumer electronics industry blasted the non-binding guidelines, calling NHTSA’s move to influence smart phone and software design “disturbing” and an example of “the worst” of government overreach.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, called the guidelines “de-facto” regulations that defy calls from lawmakers for the Obama administration to refrain from issuing new regulatory actions until the next administration.

“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,” Shapiro said in the statement. “Under their vision, they would have the influence to control the design of technology products down to the fitness tracker worn on a driver. Such a vast and extreme expansion of NHTSA's authority, if it were to happen, would have to be explicitly granted by Congress.”

NHTSA said the guidelines released today are voluntary and non-binding, and not formal regulations.

Source: Automotive News, 2016

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Thursday Nov 24, 2016