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Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Transportation Department asked automakers to design devices allowing drivers access to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter so they can’t be used while a car is moving.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in the non-binding guidelines issued today, also called for disabling manual texting, Internet browsing, 10-digit phone dialing and the ability to enter addresses into a built-in navigation system for drivers unless the car is in park.
The department said it’s considering future guidelines to address handheld electronics brought into cars and minimizing distractions from voice-activated systems. Today’s guidelines culminate LaHood’s campaign to bring attention to distracted driving caused by use of mobile phones and other electronic devices behind the wheel.
“DOT is on the right path,” Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said in an e-mail. “We particularly like the guideline for disabling devices that text and surf the Internet, etc.”
The guidelines don’t apply to electronic warning systems such as lane-departure or collision alerts. The department will seek comments before making them final. Regulators still expect full compliance, David Strickland, administrator of the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters on a conference call with reporters.
“Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and can have devastating consequences,” LaHood said on the call. “Every single time a driver takes his or her focus off the road, the driver puts his or her life and the lives of others at risk.”
More Electronics Offered
In 2010, 3,092 people, or 9.4 percent of road fatalities, were killed in crashes related to driver distraction, according to NHTSA.
This year, there will be a 29 percent increase in the number of new cars and light trucks sold in North America that will be fitted with smartphone and embedded-connectivity units, according to QUBE, part of automotive data provider just- auto.com. The firm expects 5.8 million in-vehicle units this year. By 2026, all vehicles sold in North America and Japan will have the technology, the Bromsgrove, England-based company forecasts.
U.S. light-vehicle sales this year may rise at least 6 percent to 13.6 million this year, the average estimate of 18 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg in January.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., completed its own guidelines on electronics in 2002 and has updated them twice, Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group, said.
The U.S. government guidelines differ from the industry’s in calling for in-car applications to be disabled while a vehicle is moving, she said.
Automakers haven’t calculated what costs might be involved, she said. Regulators didn’t look at costs because it’s a voluntary guideline rather than a rule, Strickland said.
The guidelines recommend limiting to two seconds the time it takes a driver to complete a task that requires eyes to be off the road, and for simplifying the complexity of built-in communication systems.
Consumers will still be able to have built-in systems, Strickland said. Regulators aren’t trying to ban them, just reduce their use while driving, he said.
“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s drivers,” he said.
In December, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board called mobile-phone use in cars a public-health epidemic on the scale of smoking or drunk driving. It recommended that all U.S. states ban phone use by drivers, even with handsfree devices. The safety board can’t make or enforce rules.
The board plans a meeting on distracted driving in March, Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman, said.
LaHood, who has said he will step down from his post even if President Barack Obama wins a second term, has said he supports bans on all use of handheld devices while driving.
The agency decided to publish voluntary guidelines rather than a compulsory rule in part because change may get done more quickly, LaHood said.
--With assistance from Craig Trudell in Southfield, Michigan. Editors: Bernard Kohn, Andrea Snyder
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