Law & Order

Federal Government Proposes Limits on Electronic Products that May Distract Drivers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued proposed guidelines intended to limit the risk of driver distraction from in-vehicle electronic devices that are not directly applicable to driving a car. The draft guidelines would be voluntary and apply specifically to original equipment installed in new light-duty vehicles. The electronic devices covered include “information, navigation, communications and entertainment” products that require the driver to take their eyes off the road and hands off the wheel. For example, certain functions, such as inputting an address into a navigation system, text messaging, dialing a phone number or browsing the Internet would be disabled until the vehicle is in park. Operations that require less than two seconds and one hand to achieve would be permitted.

The NHTSA has been researching driver distraction for years. Following a public meeting in 2000 on the topic, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers developed a set of best practices for telematic devices. The Alliance Guidelines consist of 24 principles that have been revised several times, most recently in June 2006. According to the NHTSA, the draft agency guidelines attempt to build on, but also go beyond the Alliance principles in order to potentially specify a single test procedure and aid in the voluntary adoption of uniform guidelines.

In the future, the NHTSA intends to issue a second guidance document for aftermarket products. Such devices include smart phones, electronic tablets and pads and other mobile communications devices. The NHTSA could also issue a third set of guidelines covering voice-activated control devices offered by the automakers and aftermarket. 

For additional information, contact Stuart Gosswein at