JAMIE LaREAU

Proposals for automakers to help limit distracted driving seem fair

Automotive News | April 26, 2013 - 10:39 am EST

Here's a big thank you to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency announced earlier this week some new guidelines to help address the hazards posed by complex in-car control systems and distracted driving.

In short, NHTSA wants automakers to limit the distractions drivers could be exposed to. And the suggestion seems a fair compromise to an ongoing debate about whether in-vehicle control systems do as they are intended and keep a driver's eyes on the road, hands on the wheel or whether they add further distraction as some safety advocates have argued.

The agency's new guidelines include a recommendation to limit the time a driver must take his or her eyes off the road to perform any task to 2 seconds at a time and 12 seconds total.

That would mean drivers should not look away from the road more than six times to perform a task.

The guidelines encourage automakers to disable any device that allows drivers to enter text for messaging or Internet browsing. The agencies also recommend against in-car devices that display Web pages and texts, as well as video phones and similar tools.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of magazine Consumer Reports, supports the proposed guidelines.

"Distracted driving has become an epidemic on the road. The problem isn't limited to drivers who text on their smartphones," said Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, in a media statement. "There's a serious concern about in-dash controls that may be very distracting when you're behind the wheel."

Automakers who offer the in-dash systems have good intentions to limit driver distraction.

But the upcoming June 2013 edition of Consumer Reports has a national survey on distracted driving, according to a Consumers Union's press statement. The magazine asked consumers about these sophisticated in-dash control systems that often use touch screens and multifunction controllers to operate audio, climate, communications and other functions.

About 17 percent of those surveyed said they owned a car with a multifunction controller and 9 percent had a touch screen. About half of each of those groups found performing common tasks, such as adjusting the radio and climate, to be somewhat or very distracting, the press statement said.

It might seem like a small percentage, but at 70 mph, if even one driver finds the system distracting, that's one too many.

The voluntary guidelines by NHTSA seem reasonable, especially if they help save that one life.

Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News.Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News.

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