NHTSA to Vehicle Makers: "Less Distraction Please"

February 29, 2012, by

Thumbnail image for distracted driver.jpgWe have posted in the past on the dangers of distracted driving in all vehicles and with all drivers -- from negligent truck drivers to teens to the elderly. Incidents of distracted driving have come to the attention of Georgians in the past few years and our legislature has banned texting while driving. I have learned a great deal about this problem in my Atlanta accident and injury law practice, as clients contact me after having been in an accident, some involving distracted driving.

Before going into what the feds are proposing, a reminder to all that Georgia bans texting while driving, but allows the use of cell phones whether hand-held or not. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.) § 40-6-241.2 prohibits drivers from operating a motor vehicle on any public road or highway "while using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read any text based communication, including but not limited to a text message, instant message, e-mail, or Internet data."

Recently, the U.S. Transportation Secretary announced something very unusual. The "first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices." The idea is to ask vehicle manufacturers to pay attention to the devices they are installing in cars that might distract drivers.

When manufacturers install such gadgets as entertainment systems, communications devices and navigation tools, the federal agency wants them to be thinking about electronic device that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The guidelines are targeted to light vehicles, including cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles that are less than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.

The guidelines are just the first in what will be a series of documents the agency will publish to deal with the sources of distraction -- those devices that take our eyes away from the primary task of driving. The Phase I proposed guidelines for manufacturers to ensure that they take into account the potential for distraction with the systems and devices they develop for their new cars. The guidelines seek to limit the time it takes for a driver to take his or her eyes away from the road in order to manage systems or devices.

The NHTSA Administrator David Strickland notes that "[t]he guidelines we're proposing would 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."

The new guideline recommendations focus on some important factors for car-makers. For example, the recommendations seek to reduce the complexity that the device requires. They also want manufacturers to make sure devices and systems allow for one hand on the wheel, limit to only two seconds the length of time a device would take to operate so that the driver's eyes can stay on the road, and limit such things as visual information in the driver's vision field and keep down the number of manual inputs required to operate any device. Under these guidelines, some devices would be disabled while driving such as visual-manual text messaging, browsing and some navigation tasks.

The NHTSA will be holding public hearings on the recommendations. There are some further guidelines under consideration for aftermarket devices or those that the driver brings into the car. And a third phase would deal with voice activated devices.

The Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle represents clients in Metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia in cases involving motor vehicle accidents. Our Gwinnett County law practice helps Georgians negotiate with insurers for a fair settlement -- and, if necessary, enforce their rights in court. If you or a loved one has been seriously hurt in a motor vehicle accident, the Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, please contact us or call us toll-free at 1-866-972-5287.