Phonemakers Asked to Alter Devices to Cut Driver Distraction – Bloomberg

 In Technology
U.S. highway safety officials called on smartphone makers to add features that would keep motorists from using functions linked to a surge in deaths due to distracted driving, a proposal that drew immediate opposition from the electronics industry.

The voluntary guidelines proposed Wednesday asked device makers to take steps such as blocking some video displays and preventing manual text entry while vehicles are under way.

“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 U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “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 proposal comes as highway deaths due to distractions reached at least 3,500 last year, and pits industry groups urging regulators to move cautiously against safety advocates who chided the government for acting too timidly. It also has implications for technology giants Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which are developing vehicle technology.

Among the ways the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said manufacturers can meet the guidelines is to create a “driver mode” that limits functions when a vehicle’s transmission moves to “drive” from “park.” It said maps could continue to be displayed on a phone for navigation.

The Consumer Technology Association, a trade group whose members include top smartphone makers Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co., characterized the guidelines as “extreme.”

Regulatory Overreach

“This regulatory overreach could thwart the innovative solutions and technologies that help drivers make safer decisions from ever coming to market,” Gary Shapiro, president of the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group said in an e-mailed statement. “NHTSA doesn’t have the authority to dictate the design of smartphone apps and other devices used in cars — its legal jurisdiction begins and ends with motor vehicle equipment.”

Shapiro called the proposed guidelines an “attempt by the outgoing administration to push out highly questionable, de facto regulations” before the administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump takes office.

CTIA, a trade group for wireless companies including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., criticized the proposal as “the wrong approach for consumers.”

“A regulatory path” can’t keep pace with efforts to reduce distractions “whether they arise from interacting with mobile or embedded devices or other activities like eating,” Tom Power, general counsel for the Washington-based trade group, said in an e-mailed message.

Carmaker ‘Encouraged’

The response from carmakers, which have been criticized for adding electronic distractions to vehicles, was more positive. Ford Motor Co. is still reviewing the proposal but is “encouraged NHTSA is looking at multiple factors beyond the vehicle to address driver distraction,” said Elizabeth Weigandt, a spokeswoman for the automaker.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, with members including Ford, General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., “will carefully review these guidelines,” Wade Newton, a spokesman for the trade group, said in an e-mail.

“It’s important to encourage drivers to use in-vehicle systems rather than handheld personal electronic devices that were not engineered for use in the driving environment,” Newton said.

U.S. highway deaths spiked to 35,092 last year in the highest one-year increase since 1966, the Transportation Department said in September. It attributed the 7.2 percent increase in highway deaths to more driving, drunk driving, speeding and distraction from phones and other devices.

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