Feds Suggest Guidelines for Smartphone Makers to Combat Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation released a set of voluntary guidelines to quell the rise of distracted driving.

by / November 23, 2016

Have you ever texted while driving? Be honest. It's no secret that the smartphone revolution in the last decade has increased the instances of distracted driving. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released voluntary guidelines for mobile device manufacturers to address the issue on Nov. 23.

According to the report, in 2015, 10 percent of the 35,092 traffic fatalities involved at least one driver who was distracted by a mobile device — an 8.8 percent increase from 2014. Of non-fatal accidents in 2014 (the most recent year where distraction-affected crash data is available) 16 percent involved distracted drivers.

The report breaks down distracted driving into three categories:

  • Visual distraction: tasks that force drivers to avert their eyes from the road;
  • Manual distraction: tasks that require the driver to use one or both hands to use the device; and
  • Cognitive distraction: tasks that averts the driver's mental attention away from driving.

While the guidelines are voluntary, the agency has a few suggestions for the private market on creating solutions to lower distracted driving cases.

"Far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "These commonsense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road."

Included in the guidelines is for manufacturers to enable a “Driver Mode” setting when phones are paired with a vehicle's infotainment system. While in driver mode, several features of the phone would appear as a simplified interface, with traffic information automatically displayed or music controls easily accessible. The guidelines state that, “The purpose of Driver Mode is to provide a simplified interface when the device is being used.”

The other feature in Driver Mode would “lock out” functions that have been deemed too dangerous for vehicle operators. This includes playing videos, automatically scrolling text and manual text entry, which could be replaced by dictation.

Additionally the agency calls for the private sector to develop strategies for smartphones to distinguish between drivers and passengers. According to the report, NHTSA has learned that “technologies to detect whether a driver or passenger is using a device have been developed but are currently being refined.”

NHTSA is accepting feedback on the proposed guidelines.

Platforms & Programs