DOT floats guidance for in-vehicle mobile devices

DOT floats guidance for in-vehicle mobile devices

To reduce the number of injuries resulting from distracted driving, the Department of Transportation has issued voluntary guidelines developers of mobile applications and devices.  

The guidance is the second phase of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Driver Distraction Guidelines and is intended to help designers of mobile device technology build products that keep drivers’ attention on the road rather than on their phones, according to the NHTSA.

The guidelines refer to the visual-manual user interfaces developed for “portable and aftermarket electronic devices,” used in vehicles -- a category that  includes smartphones, tablets and navigation devices as well as aftermarket devices like infotainment systems that are installed in the vehicle after manufacturing.

The guidelines urge industry to develop easy-to-operate pairing of portable devices with the in-car entertainment system and the use of a “Driver Mode,” which would simplify the user interface and limit the functionality of the device for the driver.

These proposals follow on NHTSA's Phase 1 guidelines, which cover electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time of manufacture. Because distractions can be visual or manual, the agency suggested that devices be designed with features that would disable certain functions while driving, referred to as “per se lock outs.” This way, any tasks determined to be too distracting would not be accessible.

If the vehicle meets Phase 1’s requirements, the portable devices and in-vehicle systems should be operated through the in-vehicle interfaces. According to NHTSA, this would ensure that the driver is preforming tasks that meet time-based, eye-glance acceptance criteria and is locked-out of activities like displaying videos and photos, text messaging, internet browsing and viewing social media content.  

If the devices don’t meet “per se lock out” criteria, they could use Driver Mode. This feature would lock out certain distracting tasks and provide a simpler interface for drivers. It could be manually or automatically activated when the device is not paired with in-vehicle equipment or when it detects the device is being used by the driver.

The guidelines also include examples of possible solutions, such as using an “authentication task approach” that puts the device into a limited-use state at a certain speed threshold. Another is a driver-passenger distinction technology that uses capacitive sensors within the seats to detect where the device is being used.

NHTSA is currently seeking comments and suggestions to improve its proposal.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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