Skip to Content
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Streetsblog Los Angeles home
Log In
DC Streetsblog

DOT Issue Voluntary Guidelines for Driver-Distracting Electronics Systems

1:32 PM PST on February 21, 2012

Distracted driving has become one of the U.S. Department of Transportation's banner issues under secretary Ray LaHood's tenure, with agencies launching safety programs and awareness campaigns aimed at preventing the practice. Last week, LaHood stepped into new territory by recommending that cars be built to automatically disable potentially distracting electronic devices when in motion.

false

The new guidelines would seem to be of special comfort to pedestrians, cyclists, and even motorcyclists who have long observed the trend of cars getting safer for their occupants but more dangerous for everyone else. "When automakers employ 'Infotainment Systems Engineers,' like Ford does," says BikePortland's Jonathan Maus, "that should raise a red flag."

Automakers are scrambling to find newer and fancier ways for drivers to stay connected behind the wheel, ostensibly to meet consumer demand. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Expo, Mercedes-Benz debuted their in-dash system that supports some Facebook functions even while the car is in motion, in what Maus calls a "disturbing trend":

Automakers, scared that their vehicles can't compete with consumers' growing adoration of smartphones and other devices, now offer all sorts of phone-like conveniences on-board. The result? More distraction, more crashes, more deaths and injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board had already recommended a set of anti-distracted driving measures, including outlawing the use of any electronic device -- hands-on or hands-free -- while driving. But the new guidelines, which are voluntary and unenforceable, represent only a cautious next step in making it harder to drive distracted. Gone is the ban on hands-free devices, for example, and the new rules would only apply to built-in electronics, leading some to expect that drivers would find after-market ways to stay connected.

David Coursey, a contributor to Forbes, supports the guidelines but thinks they don't get to the root of the problem:

We should concentrate on technology that notices when a driver is actually distracted and diverts their attention back to driving. We should also create better user interfaces for automobile electronics that improve driver attention rather than divert it.

For their part, manufacturers say that they have held themselves to "an evolving set of self-imposed electronics guidelines for a decade" according to The Washington Post. Robert Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told the Post that “any task behind the wheel that takes more than two seconds to complete or can’t be completed in a couple of brief chunks would be locked out or would be prohibited,” what they call the "two-second rule."

According to research, two seconds is still too long. NHTSA estimates that a driver whose attention is taken off the road for two seconds becomes twice as likely to be in a crash. Sending or receiving a text message takes 4.6 seconds.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Los Angeles

Friday Bikeways Update: Beach Bike Path Damage, 7th Street, and More

Updates on: beach bike path in Pacific Palisades, Michigan Greenway in Santa Monica, Parthenia Place in North Hills, 7th Street Streetscape in DTLA, and Imperial Highway near LAX

March 1, 2024

Measure HLA Fact Check: Sidewalk Costs

The city says $200 million worth of annual ADA work is "included in the cost" of Measure HLA, but the city is already on the hook for that ADA work anyway, so none of it should be included as HLA costs

March 1, 2024

Supervisor Hahn Calls for No Residential Demolitions in Metro’s 710 Freeway Corridor Project

"[For 710 Freeway expansion] Metro needs to commit itself to zero residential property takes. [Metro] should have as one its top priorities ensuring that our projects do not result in kicking people out of their homes."

February 29, 2024
See all posts