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USDOT Aims to Curb Cell Phone Distractions for Drivers

With the goal of reducing the serious risk posed by distracted drivers toying with their cell phones, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed voluntary guidelines to manufacturers of phones and software. One of the key measurements involves a the creation of a “Driver Mode,” akin to the “Airplane Mode,” which shuts off wireless communication that might interfere with modern aircraft systems. In the same way, this “driver mode” would block or modify certain cell phone apps so that a motorist’s attention could stay on the road. phone

These voluntary guidelines were introduced amid news that traffic deaths over the last two years have increased sharply. Yes, part of that is due to falling gas prices and an improved economy, which has more people on the road. However, cell phone distraction is believed to be a substantial part of the problem. If drivers can’t be trusted to put the phones down on their own, then technology companies may need to step in and do it for them – not just for their own sake, but for the safety of those with whom they share the road.

The guidelines call on manufacturers of electronics, such as Samsung and Apple, to alter future operating systems in a way that curtails functionality and simplifies interfaces while the device is inside a vehicle that is moving. There are also requests to develop technology that would be able to determine when devices are being used by a motorist who is driving, while still allowing others who are in the vehicle full access to those features. 

Although these features have been discussed for some time, this is the first time the NHTSA has issued recommendations especially for portable electronic devices used by drivers. The agency doesn’t have the power to force companies to comply, but previous recommendations for in-vehicle entertainment and navigation systems that are built into cars have typically been adopted by most auto manufacturers.

The airplane mode feature has been in existence as long as smartphones, with the FAA mandating passengers shut off their electronic devices before takeoff. The rule was later relaxed, as long as the phones cut off the communication features. This resulted in 2007 with the creation of airplane mode.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that technology development firms too often fail to take into account that these systems are being used by drivers who are actively operating a vehicle. Just in the first six months of 2016, motor vehicle deaths spiked by 10.5 percent, which means more than 100 people in the U.S. are dying every day in car accidents.  Overall in 2015, car accident deaths increased by 7.1 percent, which was the biggest annual increase in traffic fatalities in more than 50 years.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind says that while there are other factors at play, it’s not coincidental that roadway deaths have risen as available technology has increased. There are some developers who have already signed on to try to decrease the risk. For example, the maker of Pokemon Go recently altered the popular game to block it from being used when a person is moving at speeds greater than 10 mph. That change came after a number of crashes were blamed on drivers who were playing the game while trying to drive.

A “driver mode” would ideally entail features that would block video, dynamic graphics, scrolling text, keypad use or social media sites.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

U.S. DOT proposes guidelines to address driver distraction caused by mobile devices in vehicles, Nov. 23, 2016, NHTSA

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