Feds take steps to regulate distracted driving

Last week, we discussed New York state efforts to reduce distracted driving by increasing the penalties for using a handheld cellphone or texting while driving. But, state lawmakers aren't the only ones working to address the problem. The federal government is also taking action to stop the scourge of distracted driving accidents.

To that end, last, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration put forth new guidelines asking vehicle manufacturers to limit the functions of potentially distracting onboard electronic devices like communication, entertainment and navigation systems.

The guidelines ask manufacturers to limit the time drivers will need to take their eyes off the road to use onboard electronic devices. The NHTSA proposed a maximum of two seconds per task and a total of 12 seconds overall. The NHTSA also wants vehicle makers to prevent drivers from using certain devices - including video entertainment, text messaging and Internet browsing - unless the vehicle is fully stopped and in the park.

The safety advocacy group Consumers Union (part of the same organization as Consumer Reports) praised the move but said it hoped that the agency would consider imposing mandatory standards instead of voluntary guidelines. Under a mandatory standard, manufacturers could face civil penalties if they do not comply with the regulation.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers was in favor of the NHTSA's move but noted that much of the danger comes from people using cellphones to send text messages or browse the Internet while driving. The proposed guidelines will not do anything to address this issue.

Because of the long approval process, the guidelines are not expected to go into effect for another few years.

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