NHTSA Targets Distracted Driving With Smartphone Guidelines

CARS.COM — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is urging smartphone manufacturers to limit apps and other functions when the person using the phone is also driving. These guidelines, which are presently only recommendations, point the way forward when it comes to eventually drafting stricter laws and legislation to combat distracted driving.

Related: 'Wreck-less Checklist' Targets Distracted Driving

If you haven't noticed how much of an epidemic distracted driving has become, simply look to your left or right when stuck at a traffic light. Chances are good that your fellow road users will be punching in navigation commands, texting or surfing the web on their smartphone. And if you're being honest, you might want to take a hard look in the mirror at your own driving habits, too.

As Cars.com previously reported, today's high-tech automobiles have tended to lull us into thinking we can multitask on our phones in traffic or while hurtling down the highway. The hard statistics prove otherwise, unfortunately: In the first six months of 2016, driving fatalities were 10.4 percent higher than the same period in 2015. Distracted driving is playing an increasingly large role in this ongoing problem.

"NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind, in a press statement. "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers' eyes where they belong — on the road."

That's a tough order, especially given the popularity of today's increasingly complex in-car infotainment systems. Ironically, the NHTSA guidelines suggest that the process of pairing a phone to an infotainment system be made much simpler. So how does easier integration of your phone and car make distracted driving less of a problem?

The solution isn't to take away your phone, it's to pare away functions that have nothing to do with driving. Once the phone and car are paired, the NHTSA proposal suggests a "driver mode" could block out certain nonessential functions, such as texting, web browsing and playing online games. You would have the basics — navigation, voicemail and music — but less of the things that might significantly shift a driver's attention away from the act of driving.

"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," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

NHTSA wants to hear what you, as a driver and smartphone user, have to say on the matter. Public comments are open for the next six months regarding these distracted driving guidelines.

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