Feds want ‘driver mode’ for smart phones

Feds want ‘driver mode’ for smart phones
© Greg Nash

A federal safety agency is urging cell phone and electronic device makers to design products to minimize the potential for driver distraction.

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In new voluntary guidelines released Wednesday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called for the creation of a “driver mode” for smart phones and other portable devices that are used while driving.

The goal is to curb road deaths and injuries resulting from smartphone-based distractions, such as texting, phone calls and social media.

Regulators point to the historic spike in traffic fatalities last year, when 35,092 people died on U.S. roads. The NHTSA estimates that 10 percent of those deadly crashes involved at least one distracted driver.

"As millions of Americans take to the roads for Thanksgiving gatherings, far too many are put at risk by drivers who are distracted by their cell phones," said Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxWeek ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Six contenders to be Uber's new CEO Obama’s Transportation chief given Super Bowl tickets by Hollywood studio exec MORE in a statement. "These commonsense guidelines, grounded in the best research available, will help designers of mobile devices build products that cut down on distraction on the road."

The NHTSA is proposing a driver mode that would disable most of a mobile phone’s functions while driving, with the exception of navigation and music apps.

The guidelines also encourage manufacturers to implement features such as pairing, where a portable device is linked to a vehicle’s infotainment system. The NHTSA says the feature helps limit the amount of time that a driver’s eyes are off the road.

"NHTSA has long encouraged drivers to put down their phones and other devices, and just drive," said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong — on the road."

But some technology groups ripped the guidelines for being a regulatory overreach, and pointed out that auto and tech companies have already created driver-assist technologies and apps that help reduce distractions.

"NHTSA's approach to distracted driving is disturbing. Rather than focus on devices which could reduce drunk driving, they have chosen to exceed their actual authority and regulate almost every portable device,” said Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Technology Association. “This regulatory overreach could thwart the innovative solutions and technologies that help drivers make safer decisions from ever coming to market.”