Driver Distraction Accidents: Electronic Device Use Prompts DOT Guidelines

An increase in driver distraction accidents has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices. The guidelines are outlined below, and they are a good start.

However, as a national accident attorney who represents people injured by distracted drivers, I do not believe these guidelines go far enough. For example, number 3 below recommends that the devices require no more than 2 seconds of off-road glances to operate. In 2 seconds, a lot can happen.

These guidelines are voluntary, meaning they are not enforceable by DOT. But auto makers should be held responsible for their use of technology and how they fit it into the designs of their vehicles. Manufacturers are liable for injury and death caused by dangerous products. Arguably, in-vehicle electronic devices that encourage distracted driving make the vehicle a dangerous product. Lawsuits against auto makers for these types of flaws in design will go even further than the DOT proposed guidelines to change the way in-vehicle electronic devices are used in auto designs.

Proposed Driver Distraction Guidelines

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

  1. Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;
  2. Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);
  3. Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;
  4. Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;
  5. Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

  • Visual-manual text messaging;
  • Visual-manual internet browsing;
  • Visual-manual social media browsing;
  • Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;
  • Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;
  • Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

Attorney Eric Hageman represents accident victims throughout the United States. To contact Eric about a distracted driver accident, call 1-888-377-8900 (toll free) or submit our free consultation form.

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