The U.S.-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asked smartphone and app developers to reduce driver distraction through closer phone-car integration in new voluntary guidelines issued late November, reports Automotive News.
The regulator highlighted that distracted driving resulted in 3,477 casualties in the U.S. last year, which is an increase of nine percent from the previous year. The voluntary guidelines it issued are designed to curb distracted driving by taking phones out of drivers hands by way of simpler vehicle controls and locked-out handset features.
In 2013, the NHTSA issued recommendations for automakers to develop effective in-car connectivity systems; apps such as Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto fall in line with the regulator body’s vision for driver connectivity, displaying simplified menus from Apple and Android smartphones on vehicle touch-screens, with limited access to some applications and phone functions.
The regulator’s recent voluntary guidelines step up the suggested control and lock-out functions of the handsets, such that once a phone is paired with a vehicle’s interface, most of the handset’s functions would be disabled, including text entry for messaging, internet browsing and displaying social media content. Video-playing capability would also be locked out.
Device makers that choose not to lockout handset functions are advised to offer a “driver mode” not unlike the existing “airplane mode” found on most handsets—under the suggested guidelines, once in driver mode, the handset would become completely unavailable to the driver.
“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,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Reactions to the NHTSA’s new voluntary guidelines were mixed, with an automakers’ alliance receptive to the recommendations; and a consumer electronics group balking them.
“We know that it’s critical that we all address distracted driving holistically—so the Alliance will review these guidelines very carefully,” said Wade Newton, spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
“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.”
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, rejected the new voluntary guidelines, calling them “de-facto regulations” that are a “disturbing” example of government over-reach.
“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,” said Shapiro in a 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.”
The NHTSA maintains that its recommended guidelines are strictly voluntary and that automakers, smartphone manufacturers, and app developers are not legally obligated to follow them.