Distracted driving is a problem, according to crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In 2014, 10 percent of all fatal crashes involved one or more distracted drivers and these crashes resulted in 3,197 fatalities. These numbers have been relatively stable over the past few years despite the proliferation of hand-held devices.
Recently, new federal guidelines were released that propose app and tech device developers create a driver mode functionality for their products that automatically kick in when users are behind the wheel.
The guidelines propose that a lock out functionality for activities that interfere with a driver’s ability to control their vehicle including watching videos, photos, texting, browsing or reading books and other online content. The agency noted:
"As millions of Americans take to the roads for Thanksgiving gatherings, far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cellphones," said US 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."
Currently, there are no federal rules or guidelines for how hand-held technology should operate. Drivers are reminded to use the same common sense and states determine their own laws about using hand-held portable devices while driving. Apparently, that’s not enough. The NHTSA wants distracted driving eliminated and are taking a phased approach to insert Washington into the efforts.
Even if these regulations are not mandatory for device makers and vehicle manufacturers, state and national policymakers considering new laws and rules related to driving look to the NHTSA for data and guidance. These guidelines may be influential.
Let’s not forget that handheld devices are not the only distractions for drivers. What about changing the radio, GPS devices, eating, and applying make-up? Cell phones and smart phone may just be the only habits that Washington can try to control.
Distracted driving is a legitimate issue that lawmakers should address and driver mode functionality is an interesting approach. However, states are best suited to continue their efforts to combat distracted driving. The NHTSA shouldn’t overstep their bounds. Offering innovative solutions is welcome as long as they remain voluntary.