As millions of Americans hit the road this Thanksgiving, highway safety regulators announced new guidelines to make smart phones less distracting. Kris Van Cleave has more on what’s being done to keep drivers from using their phones while behind the wheel.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released proposed guidelines Wednesday, November 23, 2016 to help address driver distraction caused by mobile and other electronic devices in vehicles. The announcement covers the second phase of voluntary guidelines to address driver distraction on U.S. roads. The first phase focused on devices or systems built into the vehicle at the time of manufacture by electronics developers, such as Apple, Samsung, and others.
According to NHTSA, driver distraction is a safety problem in the United States, and the latest crash and fatality data implicate driver distraction in 10 percent of fatal crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes, and 16 percent of all motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2014.
The 2014 data show that cell phones were directly linked to 385 fatal crashes (resulting in 404 fatalities), which is 13 percent of all distraction affected crashes and 1.3 percent of all fatal crashes.
The NHTSA reports it is aware of the effect that these types of distraction can have on driving safety, particularly visual-manual distraction. At any given time, an estimated 542,073 drivers are using hand-held cellphones while driving. Moreover, when sending or receiving a text message with a hand-held phone, the total time that a driver’s eyes are focused off the road is 23 seconds on average. This means while traveling at 55 mph, a driver’s eyes are off the road for more than a third of a mile for every text message sent or received.
The development of non-binding, voluntary guidelines for in-vehicle and portable devices is being implemented in three phases. The Phase 1 Driver Distraction Guidelines (Phase 1 Guidelines), released in 2013, cover visual-manual interfaces of electronic devices installed in vehicles as original equipment (OE). The Phase 2 Driver Distraction Guidelines (Phase 2 Guidelines), which are the subject of this notice, would apply to visual-manual interfaces of portable and aftermarket devices. While NHTSA is proposing the Phase 2 Guidelines, it is important to note that the agency continues to support state efforts to prohibit hand-held use of portable devices while driving.
Driver distraction can affect drivers in different ways, and can be broadly categorized into the following types:
• Visual distraction: Tasks that require the driver to look away from the roadway to visually obtain information;
• Manual distraction: Tasks that require the driver to take one or both hands off the steering wheel to manipulate a control, device, or other non-driving-related item;
• Cognitive distraction: Tasks that require the driver to avert their mental attention away from the driving task. Tasks can involve one, two, or all three of these distraction types.
The proposed Guidelines recommend that portable and OE in-vehicle systems be designed so that they can be easily paired to each other and operated through the OE in-vehicle interface. Phone
Assuming that the OE in-vehicle interface conforms to the Phase 1 Guidelines, pairing would ensure that the tasks performed by the driver while driving meet the time-based, eye-glance task
acceptance criteria specified in the Phase 1 Guidelines. Pairing would also ensure that certain activities that would inherently interfere with the driver’s ability to safely control the vehicle
would be locked out while driving (i.e., the “per se lock outs” referred to in the Phase 1 Guidelines). Those per se lock outs include:
• Displaying video not related to driving;
• Displaying certain graphical or photographic images;
• Displaying automatically scrolling text;
• Manual text entry for the purpose of text-based messaging, other communication, or internet browsing; and
• Displaying text for reading from books, periodical publications, web page content, social media content, text-based advertising and marketing, or text-based messages.
The purpose of Driver Mode is to provide a simplified interface when the device is being used unpaired while driving, either because pairing is unavailable or the driver decides not to pair. The Guidelines recommend two methods of activating Driver Mode depending on available technology. The first option, and the one encouraged by the agency, is to automatically activate the portable device’s Driver Mode when:
(1) the device is not paired with the in-vehicle system, and (2) the device, by itself, or in conjunction with the vehicle in which it is being used, distinguishes that it is being used by a driver who is driving. The driver mode does not activate when the device is being used by a non-driver, e.g., passenger.
NHTSA reports it has learned that technologies to detect whether a driver or passenger is using a device have been developed but are currently being refined such that they can reliably detect whether the device user is the driver or a passenger and are not overly annoying and impractical. Accordingly, the agency is proposing a second means of activation, which would be manual activation of Driver Mode — activated by the driver.
The document referenced directly above is a prepublication version signed by the Associate Administrator for Vehicle Safety Research, Nathaniel Beuse, on November 21, 2016. The NHTSA has taken steps to ensure the accuracy of the version of the document, but reports that it is not the official version.
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