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NHTSA Holds Chicago Hearing on Distracted Driving

With the advent of smartphones, GPS devices, MP3 players and other mobile devices, distracted driving has become a major problem on our nation's roads. However, handheld devices aren't the only culprits. Increasingly, manufacturers are equipping vehicles with onboard devices that take drivers' attention off the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has taken notice of this problem. It is proposing voluntary guidelines that aim to limit driver distraction from onboard devices.

The guidelines call on manufacturers to simplify drivers' interactions with in-vehicle electronic devices. Ideally, each interaction would take drivers' attention off the road for no more than two seconds. Further, the NHTSA recommends that manufacturers design the devices so that they can be easily operable with only one hand, allowing the other hand to stay on the wheel.

In addition, the agency suggests limiting driver access to some onboard electronic devices - like DVD players or GPS data entry - unless the car is in park.

Automakers Concerned Restrictions Are Too Lax

Recently, the NHTSA held hearings in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Chicago to gather feedback on the proposed guidelines.

During those hearings, a number of automobile manufacturer representatives voiced concern that the guidelines may not be restrictive enough. They worried that limiting in-vehicle devices, without imposing similar restrictions on after-market or handheld devices, might hurt the NHTSA's chances of achieving its goal. The manufacturers noted that drivers might simply choose to use an unregulated, and possibly more distracting, device to avoid the built-in restrictions.

The automakers' concerns may have merit; according to NHTSA data from 2010, while 17 percent of car accidents were linked to distracted driving, only 3 percent involved onboard electronic devices.

Regardless of its cause, distracted driving is a serious problem. Regulations can make a difference, but ultimately drivers need to be willing to change their habits if this problem is to be solved.

Source: Outcome Magazine, "Auto Outlook: Car Safety Regulators Look at Distracting Gadgets," March 18. 2012.

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