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Carmakers urged to curb web apps and electronic gadgets

U.S. government pushes for voluntary limits on car touch screens

Published April 24, 2013

DETROIT — The U.S. government is asking automakers to put stronger limits on drivers’ interaction with in-car touch screens in an effort to curb distracted driving.

Traffic safety regulators unveiled guidelines Tuesday that would restrict the amount of time it takes to perform both simple and complex functions on a car’s entertainment and navigation systems.

Regulators also want to ban manual text entry and display of websites, social media, books and other text distractions while the car is moving.

Distracted driving is  irresponsible and can have “devastating consequences,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who announced the guidelines along with National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland.

More than 3,000 people were killed and more than 387,000 were injured in crashes that involved distracted driving in 2011, LaHood said Tuesday.

The guidelines are voluntary and will be phased in over three years, with the possibility of incentives being given to automakers to comply.

Related: What’s just as bad as distracted driving? Distracted walking

But Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a frequent NHTSA and auto industry critic, said the guidelines will do little to halt distracted driving.

“We’ve tried voluntary,” Ditlow said. “Voluntary doesn’t work.”

NHTSA based the new guidelines on a study it conducted on distracted driving. The results showed that tasks requiring drivers to look at touch screens or hand-held devices increase the risk of getting into a crash by three times. Texting, web browsing and dialing a phone were the tasks that kept drivers’ eyes off the road the longest.

However, the study did not find an increased risk of a crash from just talking on a cellphone.

The new guidelines limit simple tasks to two seconds. They also restrict the time allowed for complex tasks to 12 seconds, but do not limit the number of times a driver can touch a screen.

The auto industry’s current guidelines, which are a decade old, allow drivers to read text and perform other more complex tasks while cars are moving at less than 5 mph.

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