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Safety agency sets guidelines for phone makers in the battle against distracted driving

There is an ongoing debate among safety experts concerning the distraction posed by cell phones. Law makers across the country were quick to adopt laws banning texting and driving. Many question whether those laws go far enough. Some experts believe that any cell phone use, including hands-free calling, represents an unsafe level of distraction for drivers. The question of what cell phone use is acceptable when behind the wheel has a new answer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a set of guidelines for cell phone makers and software developers. The guidelines are voluntary, but the NHTSA will undoubtedly pressure companies into acknowledging the role of these products in distracted driving crashes.

The basics

The NHTSA's recommendation comes in two parts. First, the agency is asking cell phone manufacturers to build devices that can be easily paired with in-vehicle "infotainment" systems. These systems have already come under scrutiny from the NHTSA and are designed to limit the amount of time they take a driver's eyes off the road. Pairing these devices with cell phones would, presumably, reduce the instances in which drivers look away from the road for long periods of time.

The second approach recommended by the NHTSA is that portable devices come equipped with a Driver Mode. Driver Mode would limit the functionality of these devices and trigger a simpler interface. Larger buttons, fewer options and other changes would, hopefully, allow drivers to complete tasks quickly and easily.

A questionable bargain

The NHTSA maintains its stance that drivers should give their undivided attention to the act of operating the motor vehicle. Safe driving and distracted driving are mutually exclusive. If you are paying attention to your cell phone, instead of your driving, you are endangering lives. Guidelines intended to limit distraction don't change the fact that distracted driving is negligent driving. Accident victims will take no comfort from the fact that you looked away for two seconds, rather than five.

Source: Tech Crunch, "NHTSA spells out what your phone shouldn't be able to do while driving," by Darrell Etherington, 23 November 2016 

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Brian Jensen

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