By on February 19, 2012

While Department of Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood and the National Transportation Safety Board aren’t on exactly the same page when it comes to regulating drivers’ use of cellphones and other personal electronic devices it’s clear that official bureaucratic Washington has decided to control the way Americans act behind the wheel. In December, the NTSB proposed using the power of the federal purse to impel the 50 states to outlaw all cellphone and PED use, including hands-free devices, while driving. At the time Sec. LaHood said he thought that went too far, saying that he didn’t think that hands-free and other devices were necessarily a problem. LaHood did, though, recommend more study. Apparently, in the two months since LaHood made his statement enough study has been done for the DOT, through NHTSA, to release the first phase of voluntary guidelines (PDF) to auto manufacturers concerning devices that cause drivers’ distraction. The guidelines address “visual-manual” distraction, “meaning the driver looking at a device, manipulating a device-related control with the driver’s hand, and watching for visual feedback”, and they call for manufacturers to disable built-in access to social media, the Web, and text messaging while driving, as well as prohibiting any built-in devices that require drivers to use both hands or take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade group, representing 12 major automakers, acted like most trade groups do, and avoided ruffling the feathers of those who regulate them. Gloria Bergquist, speaking for the AAM, was rhetorically supportive of the new guidelines saying, “They’re based on guidelines we developed 10 years ago.” She did express the common sense that drivers will simply use handheld devices if they can’t access the same technologies through their cars’ built-in systems. “If you can’t put an address into GPS while moving, then you’ll just use your handheld Garmin,” Bergquist said.

I haven’t pored over every one of the 177 pages in the document but the guidelines don’t appear to discuss the fact that the driver is not the only person in the car that might have a reason to use some of the new features that cars now offer. How manufacturers will keep drivers from getting distracted by the new technologies while simultaneously keeping children occupied with infotainment in the back seat or while a spouse is checking directions on the nav system is apparently not considered by DOT/NHTSA to be an important factor.

Some of you who aren’t familiar with the American system of government might wonder, why doesn’t Washington just ban drivers from doing what they don’t want them to do? In the United States’ federalist system, a ban on individual drivers’ behaviors would probably be unconstitutional. The federal government simply does not have the legal authority to tell you that you can’t use your cellphone while driving. That’s clearly a power and right that is in state hands, not those of the feds. So Washington regulators have two options to get the behavior they want. They can use the threat of withholding federal highway or other funding, as the NTSB suggested, to effectively blackmail the individual states into enacting legislation that complies with Washington’s wishes (that’s how we got a de facto national 55 MPH speed limit back in the malaise era), or they can use the regulatory powers of the DOT and other federal agencies to force automakers to build cars that force drivers to do what the bureaucrats want.

Regulators are apparently taking the second tack, though the guidelines are technically voluntary for the time being. According to NHTSA administrator David Strickland the agency decided to make them optional. Of course, if that option is up to the agency, are the guidelines really voluntary? From Strickland’s comments in the Automotive News it appears that NHTSA’s decision to make compliance optional was not to make things easier for manufacturers to comply but rather to give themselves, the regulators, flexibility to adjust to quickly changing technologies. If it’s an actual regulation, with appropriate enabling legislation, well then, NHTSA’s powers are regulated. “Voluntary” guidelines, on the other hand, because they’re not really the law, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, don’t restrain the agency nearly as much. As if to demonstrate the amount of power that he has over the automobile industry, Strickland also indicated that his agency hoped that the car companies will use their compliance with the guidelines as a marketing tool to consumers.

Now let’s look at what just happened there. The head of an agency that regulates the auto industry makes it clear that he could have, on a whim perhaps, made some “guidelines” obligatory. Then in the context of inferring his regulatory power, he states how he’d prefer that his regulatory subjects advertise their wares. Something that Michael Barone once said about “gangster government” resonates here. Nice little car company you have there. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to it would we? Oh, and be sure and tell your customers what a good job we’re doing keeping them safe.

While the “voluntary” guidelines issued this week are directed at manufacturers, it’s obvious that NHTSA/DOT has greater plans for their involvement in your driving. The current guidelines are only the first phase of the process.

The guidelines will be developed in three phases. The first phase will explore visual-manual interfaces of devices installed in vehicles. The second phase will include portable and aftermarket devices. The third phase will expand the guidelines to include auditory-vocal interfaces.

So despite Sec. LaHood’s earlier remarks about not wanting to ban hands-free cellphones, that’s undoubtedly being considered, as is regulation of other voice-operated and vocal recognition technologies. How a federal agency will regulate consumers’ choices and drivers’ behavior concerning portable and aftermarket devices is unclear. Also unclear is how any distraction caused by “auditory-vocal interfaces” could be distinguished the distraction of having a conversation with a passenger.  I suppose that while the feds can’t make it illegal for your significant other to ignore you, they can make it illegal to sell you a car that pays attention to what you say.

My attitude about these guidelines and any actual laws that might try to enforce the same behaviors or technology implementation (in the case of cellphone blockers or other disabling techs) is similar to that of Second Amendment advocate Dave Koppel concerning firearms laws. Koppel says that he’s fine with gun control laws, just as long as those laws apply equally to government employees, law enforcement officers included. If a trained and licensed gun owner can’t bring his weapon into, let’s say, a house of worship, well then, neither should a cop. If the gun is what’s dangerous, it’s dangerous for everyone.

The same is true of driving. The proposed guidelines make frequent use of the word “inherent”. NHTSA considers some behaviors to be inherently distracting to a driver’s ability to concentrate on the task of driving. Anti distracted driving activists like Sec. LaHood keep reminding us that you can’t learn to not be distracted by these new technologies. If something is inherently distracting it’s just as distracting to a police officer behind the wheel of a cruiser as it is to you and I when we are driving our Camcordatas.

So I’m cool with these guidelines and any proposed laws on distracted driving as long as they apply equally to government employees including police officers. The 2012 Chicago Auto Show wraps up tomorrow. Perhaps more so than the other big North American auto shows, it’s important for commercial vehicles, with lots of trucks and fleet vehicles (and sales reps). Ford had their new SHO Taurus based Police Interceptor and Chevy had the new RWD 9C1 Caprice on the show floor. A modern cop car is filled with all sorts of distracting electronic equipment including interactive computer screens. I’m fine with Ray LaHood disabling my nav system as long as he disables Johnny Law’s LEIN screen, at least when he’s behind the wheel. If it’s dangerous for regular folks to use cellphones, radios and computers behind the wheel, it’s just as dangerous for cops to do it. Actually, since cops appear to be among the most flagrant speeders, on and off-duty, it’s probably even more dangerous.

U.S. DOT press release below:

PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes ‘Distraction’ Guidelines for Automakers

Proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop “less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices. The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.

Issued by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.

“Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America’s roadways – that’s why I’ve made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel,” said Secretary LaHood. “These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages.”

Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the guidelines proposed today are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA plans to issue to address sources of distraction that require use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.

In particular, the Phase I proposed guidelines released today recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving. Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices.

“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The guidelines we’re proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want—without disrupting a driver’s attention or sacrificing safety.”

The proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

• Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;

• Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);

• Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;

• Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;

• Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

• Visual-manual text messaging;

• Visual-manual internet browsing;

• Visual-manual social media browsing;

• Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;

• Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;

• Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

The Phase I guidelines were published in today’s Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.

NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment. The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C

To view today’s proposed electronic equipment guidelines, click here.


Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS
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52 Comments on “USDOT Issues Guidelines to Automakers on Distracted Driving: Should They Apply to All Drivers?...”

  • avatar

    There is no piece of technology in a car able to distract a driver more than #1 a SCREAMING baby or #2 an annoying girlfriend/wife.

  • avatar

    At least Ray is pitching for more study on this, which is probably a good idea at this time to see if the proposals by NTSA/DOT are going to work.

    As you pointed out, drivers with families tend to have distractions that are NOT technology related and obviously no thought to the passengers IN the car either.

    Many aftermarket audio manufacturers are now integrating Bluetooth into their head units whereby you press a button to activate the voice commands and it’ll dial for you, but that’s about it, though I would like to see voice commands be also used for searching music on any device, be it CD, iPod or thumb drive, the Aux jack won’t work there but some new head units, such as from Alpine do allow you to stream your music via BT, phone/carrier supported naturally. I would also like to see a standard protocol on how one sets up data sources from unit to unit and have them all support the same files now available anywhere, MP3, WMA (including lossless) and AAC and the 2 common playlist formats (M3U and WPL) so no matter what unit you are using, your data files on a thumbdrive will work, no matter what and have much better integration of the iPod too.

    I’m actually looking at such units to replace an older Alpine unit in my Mazda as it does not have USB/Aux but does have the iPod cable though and want BT hands free speakerphone for the few times I need to answer/initiate a call while driving, not that I just yak on the phone, just because.

    The biggest obstacle is violating any personal freedoms but making it so one CAN’T do such things may be the only solution, but even there, there that may cause issues with the constitution.

    But let’s be realistic here, the automakers ARE adding way too much infotainment to cars, which is ADDING to what we’ve all been dealing with since the dawn of the automotive age, general distractions.

  • avatar

    If I’m in one of those self-piloting cars, it won’t matter if I’m on the phone, fiddling with the radio, watching NetFlix or asleep.

    Replace the windshield with a big-screen TV.

    Steady as she goes, Mr. Roboto.

    There is some thought that hands-free phones are about as distracting as regular phones because they move one’s focus from the car. Also, the person on the other end of the conversation has no idea whether or not you are paying attention to the road. Conversation with people inside the car isn’t as bad because they will redirect the driver’s focus back to the road.

    • 0 avatar

      Well since most cars already detect weight in the front passenger seat to disable the airbag on that side if there is not an adult sitting there I guess that could reenable the electronics for use by the passenger . there are also displays that can show one thing to the driver (voice controlled Nav for example) and something else to the passenger (web access or other entertainment…
      I agree what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander but I feel that way about almost everything and yet my pay packet, health care and retirement plan do not quite measure up to the ones that both the US congress and my state legislature have voted for themselves.

      as a result more laws will be passed that make living your life more unpleasant to the beauracrats something to do.

      • 0 avatar

        The bureaucrats have created for themselves a poor public image….much as others (Islamics for one ) have done.The political representatives are our servants….and we need for the people to uprise and remind the servants of this.
        In other words a majority of the people must bent the ear of their congressmen…
        Each congressman should have a site where they can discuss things with their constituents.
        Our INTERNET can be a great communications tool – far better than gripe and moan sites.

      • 0 avatar

        You asked your servants to study the situation. They studied it and came up with recommendations. Then you whined when they came up with recommendations.

        You can’t have it both ways.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    They are sending cops into kindergartens to inspect kids’ lunches. Why shouldn’t they control what is in your car. You are too stupid to pack your kid’s lunch, you are too stupid to to use a cell phone and drive. So, stop complaining and be more respectful of your betters.

    • 0 avatar


      “Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.”

    • 0 avatar

      What kindegarten are you sending your kids to????

      • 0 avatar

      • 0 avatar

        There is no mention of police or cops in that story.

        But hey, why let the truth get in the way of a good story! It’s a lot easier to make stuff up about a big-bad police state, instead!

      • 0 avatar

        So, an adult at school told a preschooler that she needed to get a glass of milk so that she would have a balanced healthful lunch. The child misinterpreted the instructions and bought a school lunch instead. The school told the parents that they owed money for the lunch the student bought.

        Through the magic of the internet that became jackbooted thugs breaking down doors, stringing up grandma, and violating our personal libertays!

      • 0 avatar


        Yes, it’s never the fault of the public employee. They always have our best interests at heart and are so, so much more competent than people in the private sector. More competent parents than the children’s actual parents. There are never any mistakes made by public employees, particularly those that hold a monopoly on public education. It’s the stupid parents that can’t be trusted with their children’s nutrition. After all, a bachelor’s degree in education or a PhD in school management certainly makes someone a qualified nutritionist.

        Actually, there has now been a report from a second parent with a child at the school and the school administration acknowledges that a nutrition bureaucrat from the state or feds had just recently visited the school.

        So tell me, since the guidelines require a serving of dairy (which, btw, the packed lunch in question had, a slice of cheese on the sandwich), what’s the parent of a Jewish child to do if they want to send their kids to school with a salami sandwich? Observant Jews don’t eat meat and dairy products at the same meal.

        What of Muslim students during Ramadan? Will the food nannies prosecute the parents for making their children observe the fast, or worse, will they force the Muslim students to eat at school during Ramadan?

        So let’s say Chaim Yankel Cohen and Achmed Abdul Ali come to school and the school decides that their home-packed meals are not nutritious enough, and tells them they have to eat (and pay for) the cafeteria meal, which that day is pork chops.

        Can you see a problem there?

        But, hey, if the government can tell Catholics they have pay for contraceptives I suppose the government can tell Jews that keeping kosher isn’t kosher.

        When I had to pick my granddaughter up from school because she had a slight fever, the principal told me that she couldn’t come back to school until she was symptom free for 24 hours. I told her that wasn’t her call to make, it was my daughter’s decision whether or not to send her child to school and the school’s role was to decide if she needed to be sent home. At that point the principal got agitated and said that we shouldn’t be having that discussion in front of my granddaughter, that it was “unprofessional”. So I told her, “No, you just don’t want my granddaughter to see a real authority figure in her life, her granddad, challenging you.”

        Tar, feathers.

  • avatar

    Having read more of this post, sounds like some cooler heads are prevailing and seems I was closer to the mark than initially realized.

    Forcing ease of use is a BIG step towards reducing distractions in a moving vehicle, but still, Lahood and his minions fail to recognize that distracted driving has been around since the dawn of the auto age.

    That said, this 3 phase approach sounds reasonable, that is IF they actually follow through as written (with perhaps a small tweak or two here and there to make it work as needed) and it seems to address making sure not only do the OEM manufacturers have to simplify their gear, but the same for all portable devices and aftermarket vendors who make replacement head units etc that get installed (usually permanently) in a car.

    And I’m glad that they ARE addressing the passenger in these proposed guidelines and it’ll be interesting to see how the public reacts to it.

    If anything, this relieves my mind – to some extent of possible draconian measures without being realistic.

  • avatar

    One thing that keeps coming up is that of hand(s) being off the wheel. Of course those of us who have manual transmissions have our right hand off the wheel much of the time as we operate the shift lever. Is there evidence that a manual transmission is a distraction?

    Many people, myself included, prefer to drive with our arm propped on the window sill (when driving an automatic) and steer with our right hand. Is this inherently dangerous?

    Back when lots of people smoked, people’s hands were off the wheel as they fiddled with lighters and getting cigs out of the pack, and as they flicked ashes, etc.

    A more important point – is there any evidence at all that there are more accidents due to distracted driving? I mean actual evidence, as opposed to gut feelings.

    • 0 avatar


      You bring up some very good points here and I’ve been driving a manual for 20 years and never had a problem, the thing I do now is once I’m finished shifting, I’m back to driving with both hands on the wheel.

      I also like the idea of steering wheel controls, but sadly, even my current ride doesn’t have them and more and more cars ARE installing them, which is great, including the VR and hook/unhook buttons for making and receiving calls and to call up a track by voice command.

      Right now, I have a sport stick automatic in my Mazda and yes, I DO drive it as a manual so I’m often steering with one hand when shifting. :-)

    • 0 avatar

      “Is there evidence that a manual transmission is a distraction?”

      There is research that suggests that manuals are distracting for novice drivers and slow the reaction time of older drivers, but that they are otherwise fairly neutral. (Experienced drivers can shift without thinking about it.)

      “is there any evidence at all that there are more accidents due to distracted driving?”

      It seems reasonable to surmise that all things being equal, distracted driving is worse than is driving that isn’t distracted. But since the distraction-free scenario isn’t necessarily equal, it doesn’t necessarily follow that distracted driving is inherently worse than the alternative. Even if the distraction is eliminated, it may not be replaced with better driving.

    • 0 avatar

      So, in other words, 88, you propose doing nothing ?
      It does not take a genius to determine what a major or real distraction is. Text messaging during driving is a major distraction, agreed ?
      My fix (which is borrowed) is to prevent this by having an integrated system using the Park position – so even manual transmissions would need some sort of Park (hand brake on ). But, even if a great idea, it only applies to 2014 vehicles and we have 120 million others.
      So , what to do…???
      This helps not, BUT :
      I’ll say again, if the people were to behave themselves, then we would not need so many government regulations and rules…The people bring this on themselves and then they moan and cry “big government “.
      We need a better people.

  • avatar

    We have too much government.

  • avatar

    We would NOT have too much government if the people would learn to behave themselves.
    Its not only the cell-phones, its tailgating, rudeness and more.
    The people bring this upon themselves and then they cry about it.

  • avatar

    Where I live tailgating, speeding and reckless driving seem to be much larger problems than distracted driving. The laws against these infractions are much easier to enforce. If we could just reduce tailgating, it would probably have a profoundly positive impact on accident rates around here.

    • 0 avatar

      Hear hear!

      I can’t tell you how many times I’m cruising in the STi at 5 over in the right lane because it’s a cop magnet at certain times of day when some buffoon in an Escalade decides to see if he can drive 2′ off my bumper even though the left lane is CLEAR.

      I think we should attack tailgating prior to attacking distracted driving. Not being distracted but riding 2′ off someones bumper @ highway speeds isn’t better than being distracted and having 20 car lengths open infront of you because you haven’t relized traffic hasn’t sped up yet.

  • avatar

    I just don’t get all the targeting against electronic devices. Someone with one hand of a phone can drive at least as good as someone with a hand on a burger, a hand on a coffee cup or soda and much better than someone who is applying makeup while driving. And hands-free calling is about as distractive as listening to talk radio or on sports games or to an audio book for that matter.

    • 0 avatar

      They target what they can and what captures the public’s interest. If the public was as up in arms about food as they are about cell phones, the govt would address it.

      Hands-free calling is slightly worse than radio because of the two-way interaction. With a radio, since it is one-way, the driver can tune it out if other matters (driving) warrant. (I’m sure we all have had the experience of not remembering what songs were just played or suddenly realizing that commercials have been on for five straight minutes.) But with a phone call, the expectation of reply causes more attention to be paid to it. Also, doing business on the phone requires more cognitive work (making decisions, working out schedules, recalling associated memories, etc.) than merely listening to a conversation.

    • 0 avatar

      “hands-free calling is about as distractive as listening to talk radio or on sports games or to an audio book for that matter.”

      There are a ton of studies showing that not to be the case. The classic one, by Strayer & Johnson, is discussed here:

  • avatar

    Go ahead and mess with my car’s computer all you want. I don’t care. I’ll deal with it the same way I dealt with apple trying to control a device I paid for: I’ll jailbreak it. I’ll tune it so that I can use it the way I want.

  • avatar

    Some quick Googling shows me that in my state (MI) total crashes in 2010 (both fatal and non-fatal) were down 29% since 2001. In round numbers, 400K down to 282K.

    I don’t know if MI is unique in having a declining accident rate, but I suspect not. I don’t have the time or inclination to check the other 49 states, DC, PR, etc.

    Note that this period of declining accidents (not just fatalities) coincides with an “explosion” of cell phone ownership and use. And use includes “while driving”.

    Clearly we need more people talking on cell phones while they drive :-)

    Just as clearly, we don’t need any federal or state legislation concerning cell phone/other device use while driving.

    • 0 avatar

      California produces a lot of data and has a large enough population that it could represent a decent statistical norm.

      If you crunch some of the data here, you’ll see that reported crashes with property damage only (not fatal or injured) fell on a VMT (mileage traveled) basis of about 20% between 2000 and 2009. (The number of crashes fell 16%, but annual mileage traveled increased by about 6% over the same period.)

      Injury crashes per VMT fell by 22%, as did fatals.

      Of course, not all crashes are reported, so this may understate the property damage figures. But the stats on fatals should be very accurate, and just about as good for injury crashes.

      During the onslaught of the phone epidemic, we manage to crash, get hurt and die less. Go figure.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s interesting. As you point out, accidents sans injury are down too. If we take CA as a “norm” then the question, nationwide, is why are accidents down?

        I wonder if it has to do with the aging/demographics of the country? Or maybe the battle against drunk driving? (It appears to me to have little effect on the hard core drunks, but may have an effect on social drinkers and their behavior behind the wheel) It would benefit us not only to know that we are succeeding at something, but also to know why.

        The fatality rate is now about where it was in 1949. For most of the B&B that means it’s the lowest in their lifetime.

      • 0 avatar

        “The fatality rate is now about where it was in 1949.”

        No, the **number** of fatalities is about the same as it was in the late 40’s. But the fatality **rate**, when measured on the basis of mileage, is about 1/7th of what it was in the late 40s.

        The fatality rate has fallen almost every year since the data started being collected in the 1920s. Driving is far safer today than it ever was before, by a significant margin. But today, we have far more drivers than we had in the late 40s, and the average driver is driving more today than in the past, so we end up with about the same number of fatalities.

        “I wonder if it has to do with the aging/demographics of the country? Or maybe the battle against drunk driving?”

        I doubt that there is any one single answer. These figures tend to improve over time, regardless.

        But DUI laws probably don’t explain what has happened over the last decade. The relative rate of DUI fatals has been flat for the last fifteen years: So while there are fewer fatal DUI crashes, they have declined at the same rate as have the fatal crashes that weren’t alcohol related.

        Graduated licensing does seem to help: Removing younger people off of the road and reducing the time that they spend driving are good for overall safety.

        In recent years, the lack of an economic boom should help. Fatalities tend to correlate with economic prosperity.

      • 0 avatar

        A big reason is true improvements to the safety of cars, such as anti-lock brakes and air bags.

        A good question to consider is would the accident rate have dropped even further if there were no cell phones.

      • 0 avatar

        “A big reason is true improvements to the safety of cars, such as anti-lock brakes and air bags.”

        Air bags don’t reduce crash rates. They reduce fatality and injury rates, but they don’t keep drivers from hitting each other.

        ABS is a mixed bag. Research from NHTSA indicates that ABS leads to fewer overall crashes, but more side impact and rollover crashes. One example:

    • 0 avatar

      88, Are you saying in so many words that a man using a cell-phone when driving makes for greater safety ?
      If there is definite proof, and we need more than one example, the cell-phone usage affects NOT highway safety, then I’ll agree…
      Also, are you an anti-government man or a pro government man ?
      I’m probabby pro-government, but I also seek the truth – wich is nigh impossible.
      Man lies..

      • 0 avatar

        Let me start with your last question. I’m not one of those “Get Government off our back” types. In general I do not think there is too much govt. – in fact there is probably too little.

        However, I see no data that suggests cell phone use correlates with an increase in accidents. Indeed the accident rate -not just fatality and injury rates- is going down, while at the same time cell phone use, while driving, has increased tremendously.

        Am I saying cell phone use, while driving, leads to greater safety? Almost. I was being tongue in cheek about it, but it may well be the case.

        There may be multiple reasons for the decline in accident rates. What we know is that cell phone use, while driving is up over the past several years, while the accident rate is down over the same period. So, while we don’t know every factor involved in the decline of accident rates, we do know that cell phone use can’t be highly correlated with accident rates, because cell use is way way up, while accident rates are down. In fact the correlation appears to be inverse.

        I’ll stop short of saying using a cell phone leads to greater safety because correlation isn’t the same as causation. But it’s not a silly idea. People trying to drive and talk at the same time need to be focused on both tasks in order to avoid crashing. It’s a least possible that they are actually paying more attention to driving while they talk, just because they recognize it as a potential distraction.

        I think what is happening is that people have an intuitive feeling that cell phone use while driving is extremely dangerous. The data suggests just the opposite. When confronted with data that contradicts their gut feeling, many people (most, perhaps) will prefer to go with their gut, even though their gut is demonstrably wrong.

        NHTSA probably has a good deal of support for going after “distracted” driving, since people’s guts are telling them distractions are dangerous. But the data clearly shows accident rates are down, despite cell phones, nav systems, and all the other “distractions” one can think of.

        Thus, I’m opposed to any limitations on cell use while driving as there is no statistical evidence that we, the driving public, are being endangered – no matter what our gut tells us.

  • avatar

    A steering wheel is a built in device which require two hands to operate…

    • 0 avatar

      I was thinking the same thing about paddle shifters. Or what about steering wheel controls for the stereo that have one set of controls for one thumb and another for the other thumb? I suppose it depends if the paddles or stereo are considered a single device or not.

    • 0 avatar

      One hand is sufficient for the wheel, oftentimes I’ll use one leg, or nothing…this does involve being very careful..
      I must agree with Dynamic88…this man is both honest and intelligent, a rare combo for today.
      Remember this ranting is from one without a cell-phone, but I am very subject to distractions…. and I could never “text message”.
      My cell phone of the future would be automatically OFF at all times..While driving, its OK to be distracted by a beautiful woman or a sunset, but never a silly telephone.

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  • avatar

    I think they should drop all the millions of laws controlling how you drive. There should be just one offense and that should be “irresponsible decisions made by the driver leading to an accident”. That way it’s the drivers responsibility to work out what is safe and what isn’t and The cops / authorities are freed of tones of paperwork etc.
    Individual states could work out punishments and fines but my suggestion would be that the offending driver be forced by law to drive a small, 2nd hand, manual transmission hatch back for at least 5 years.

    • 0 avatar

      Boy12, this would only work if we had only PERFECT drivers.
      Do we, other than yourself, of course ???
      And you know that individual states can only be trusted to do what is good for them, but, not for our nation…Imagine South Carolina setting any standard !!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m actually looking for a small, 2nd hand manual hatchback for good mpg for my daily commute. Does that mean I don’t get penalized ? :)

      • 0 avatar

        Rob, U seem to desire a ’84 VW Golf Diesel.
        We can thank the safety and environ-nazis for the demise of cars like this.
        Cheap? Yes, very much so.
        Economical ? 50 MPG
        But, of course, no navigation, no bags, no ground positioning, no zero pollution..

    • 0 avatar

      Well, for a 30 years period I was a very offensive driver…and my so-called punishment was to drive such a vehicle.
      Not really “small” as such, but very economical..
      The system we have now is OK, IMO. But it can stand for improvement; the people must work much more closely with their government, rather than fighting it all the time.
      I am, IMO, the opposite of a “tea bagger”.

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    Oh I hope so. I did route clearance on my last trip to Iraq. When in the lead vehicle I had to drive it, look out the window for bombs and judge my distance from a wall, work the remote arm with the camera on it , look at the image with said camera on it and avoid the random goats and donkeys that walked in front of me. I would love for that sort of crap to be made illegal.

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    “I haven’t pored over every one of the 177 pages in the document but the guidelines
    don’t appear to discuss the fact that the driver is not the only person in the car that
    might have a reason to use some of the new features that cars now offer.”

    Perhaps if you *had* pored (or at least spent 10 seconds searching for the word “passenger” — don’t bother, I did it for you), then you wouldn’t have had a reason for your 4 page rant.
    “Q. Limited NHTSA Guidelines for Passenger Operated Equipment
    The NHTSA Guidelines are appropriate primarily for devices that are intended to be operated by the vehicle driver. For the sake of clarity, NHTSA believes it necessary to make a few general statements about passenger operated equipment.
    The NHTSA Guidelines should be appropriate for any devices that the driver can easily see and/or reach. For any in-vehicle device that is within sight and reach of the driver (even if it is intended for use solely by passengers), any task that has associated with its performance an unacceptable level of distraction should be locked out whenever the vehicle’s engine is on and its transmission is not in “Park” (the vehicle’s transmission in “Neutral” and parking brake engaged for manual transmission vehicles).
    The NHTSA Guidelines are not appropriate for any device that is located fully behind the front seat of the vehicle. Similarly, the NHTSA Guidelines are not appropriate for any front-seat device that cannot reasonably be reached or seen by the driver.”
    You’re welcome.

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    The actual guidelines look like some basic UI standardization for the increasingly ubiquitous in-dash touchscreen computers that every car these days has.

    I don’t really see the problem with the car only allowing the driver to post on Facebook or troll 4chan through the entertainment system when the shift lever is in “park”.

    Ronnie, do you consider PRNDL to be unconscionable governmental overregulation, too?

    • 0 avatar

      I believe that the only editorial position that I took in this piece was to say that I was cool with the proposed regulations as long as they apply equally to everyone, including public employees, including the police.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s currently illegal (in my state anyway) for police officers to violate any traffic law including speeding unless they are showing a red light forward. Would anybody care to make a guess how often police driving marked or any other official car are cited for the near-universal violation of those laws? In the same vein, anybody want to give odds on whether any new laws applying to officers in addition to everybody else will be enforced?

  • avatar

    I haven’t read all the comments so forgive me if this has been said already:

    As in the issue of speeding, even though the law technically applies to the police, doesn’t mean it will get enforced with them. If they can excuse themselves and each other from following the law, then new laws won’t change their behavior.

    Edit: of course it’s been said already, not sure why I thought it may have not been. Oh well, it is a message that bears repeating.

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