Auto Firms Asked to Help Limit Driver Distractions

Dennis Faas's picture

The Department of Transportation (DoT) is calling on automakers to disable technologies that allow someone to send text messages while driving. However, the DoT is only making recommendations and cannot yet force automotive firms to follow its advice.

The new guidelines are based around electronic devices that are built directly into vehicles, such as GPS navigation devices and communications tools.

The DoT has two main recommendations. The first is that such equipment should never force a driver to stop looking at the road for more than two seconds at a time to carry out an action.

Officials also want auto manufacturers to completely disable some functions unless a car is in park. These include anything involving video; tools where the driver has to manually input text; and tools that ask the driver to read  text messages from a web-connected smartphone.

Car Tech Increases Crash Risks Three-Fold

The guidelines follow a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is part of the DoT. The study found that entertainment and communications tools that involved the driver using hands or eyes to operate could increase the chance of being in a crash by up to three times. (Source:

It's unclear how much difference the guidelines will actually make. Manufacturers don't have to follow them and even if they do, it could take several years before the changes can be built into newly-designed automotive systems.

Voice Recognition Tools Still Distracting

Meanwhile, a study at Texas A&M University suggests that switching to voice-based communications tools may not help a driver keep their eyes on the road.

The study tracked 43 drivers on a test course over multiple runs. One run was made without texting at all; one run was made while the drivers manually texted; and one run involved drivers sending a message using voice-recognition tools, including iPhone's Siri and Android's Vlingo.

The study found that even when using the voice recognition tools, drivers still took their eyes off the road. This suggests it's difficult to focus on driving while composing a message -- even one that requires only voice input.

The results also showed that, in some cases, drivers were distracted for longer using the voice tools because they had to check and correct recognition errors. (Source:

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