Seeking Comment By February 3, 2017

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed driver distraction guidelines for non-driving tasks enabled by portable and aftermarket electronic devices. The guidelines build upon NHTSA’s existing distracted driver guidelines (the “Phase 1 Guidelines") for manufacturer-installed devices operated by a driver through visual-manual means. Though issued as agency guidance, rather than rulemaking, the Phase 2 Guidelines are likely to significantly influence the design of portable electronic devices not previously subjected to NHTSA’s scrutiny, as well as the design of in-vehicle interfaces.

The Phase 2 Guidelines make two significant recommendations that reflect NHTSA’s attention to driver distraction issues created by portable and aftermarket devices. First, NHTSA recommends that secondary non-driving tasks enabled by portable devices—for example, navigation, communication, information and entertainment—be paired with, and operable through, the manufacturer-installed in-vehicle interface, such that they are subject to the lockout-while-driving recommendations described in the Phase 1 Guidelines. Those recommendations pertain to tasks deemed too distractive by means of a test method for measuring eye glance behavior, as well as the following tasks regarded, per se, as inherently interfering with a driver’s ability to safely control a vehicle:

  • Displaying video not related to driving;
  • Displaying certain graphical or photographic images;
  • Displaying automatically scrolling text;
  • Manual text entry for the purpose of text-based messaging, other communication, or internet browsing; and
  • Displaying text for reading from books, periodical publications, Web page content, social media content, text-based advertising and marketing, or text-based messages.

Second, NHTSA recommends that portable devices similarly lock out non-driving tasks during a so-called Driver Mode, preferably on an automatic basis whenever a device is not paired with a manufacturer-installed in-vehicle interface; or, at least, when the device distinguishes that it is being used by a driver who is driving.

With respect to aftermarket devices, NHTSA recommends they generally comply with its recommendations for manufacturer-installed systems covered by the Phase 1 Guidelines, including the lockout recommendations.

NHTSA seeks comments on the Phase 2 Guidelines by February 3, 2017. A third phase of guidelines will cover tasks performed via auditory-vocal interactions.