NHTSA's New Guidance Lists Unsafe Driver Distractions

Opting for a recommendation rather than a rule, in part because the costs and benefits cannot be accurately estimated, the agency said manual text entry, reading more than 30 characters, and automatically scrolling text are per se unsafe.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed new guidance intended to discourage vehicle manufacturers from adding "excessively distracting devices," in the agency's words, to their vehicles. The key takeaways in the lengthy Federal Register notice are that NHTSA said it can't issue a regulation to do this and that after extensive study, it considers certain tasks to be inherently unsafe and wants them to be locked out -– unavailable to a driver when the vehicle is moving.

Specifically excluded are collision warning or vehicle control systems because these are designed to capture the driver's attention and aid in controlling the vehicle and avoiding crashes, NHTSA said.

The proposed list of "per se" lock outs for in-vehicle device tasks:

  • Displaying photographic or graphical moving visual images not related to driving (including tasks such as video phone calls and other forms of video communication, as well as pre-recorded video footage and television). The guidance says images that are related to driving include information that is useful in monitoring vehicle occupant status, maneuvering the vehicle, or assisting in route planning. "Short, scrolling lists under the control of the driver (e.g., navigation system destinations) should not be significantly distracting provided the information is presented in accordance with these NHTSA Guidelines," it states. A visual image depicting blind zone areas around the vehicle is information related to the driving task, as are weather information and emergency information.
  • Displaying photographic or graphical static visual images unrelated to driving (such as album art and personal photos).
  • Automatically scrolling text.
  • Manual text entry (such as drafting text messages or keyboard-based text entry). "The driver should not input more than 6 button or key presses during the performance of a task. This limit is based on an assumed driver eyes-off-road time of 2.0 seconds per button or key press and NHTSA's maximum permitted total eyes-off-road time for a task of 12.0 seconds," the guidance states.
  • Reading more than 30 characters, not including punctuation marks, of visually presented text (noting that a number, no matter how many digits it contains, and a units designation such as mpg would count as only one character).

NHTSA said it will produce a final version of the guidance after conducting three public meetings: March 12 in Washington, D.C.; March 15 in Chicago; and March 16 in Los Angeles. Each hearing will start at 9 a.m. and continue until noon local time. It also is accepting comments until April 24 (www.regulations.gov, Docket No. NHTSA-2010-0053).

The agency said it decided not to propose a mandatory Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for three principal reasons: "First, this is an area in which learning continues, and NHTSA believes that, at this time, continued research is both necessary and important. Second, technology is changing rapidly, and a static rule, put in place at this time, may face unforeseen problems and issues as new technologies are developed and introduced. Third, available data are not sufficient at this time to permit accurate estimation of the benefits and costs of a mandatory rule in this area. NHTSA's firm belief that there are safety benefits to be gained by limiting and reducing driver distraction due to integrated electronic devices is sufficient reason for issuing the NHTSA Guidelines, but in order to issue a rule, we need a defensible estimate of the magnitude of such benefits and the corresponding costs."

Download Center

  • Lone Worker Safety Guide

    As organizations digitalize and remote operations become more commonplace, the number of lone workers is on the rise. These employees are at increased risk for unaddressed workplace accidents or emergencies. This guide was created to help employers better understand common lone worker risks and solutions for lone worker risk mitigation and incident prevention.

  • Online Safety Training Buyer's Guide

    Use this handy buyer's guide to learn the basics of selecting online safety training and how to use it at your workplace.

  • COVID Return-to-Work Checklist, Fall 2021

    Use this checklist as an aid to help your organization return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic in a safe and healthy manner.

  • SDS Buyer's Guide

    Learn to make informed decisions while searching for SDS Management Software.

  • Risk Matrix Guide

    Risk matrices come in many different shapes and sizes. Understanding the components of a risk matrix will allow you and your organization to manage risk effectively.

  • Industry Safe

Featured Whitepapers

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - November December 2021

    November December 2021

    Featuring:

    • GAS DETECTION
      How to Streamline Gas Detector Maintenance
    • OSHA TOP 10
      OSHA's Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for FY 2021
    • PROTECTIVE APPAREL
      How PPE Can Help You Deal with the Harsh Condition of Winter
    • HEARING PROTECTION
      Tackling Hearing Protection in the Workplace
    View This Issue