The 2-second rule: Government sets distracted driving guidelines for automakers

Consumer Reports News: April 24, 2013 06:08 PM

In an effort to help balance technology and safety with the latest in-vehicle electronics, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have unveiled voluntary guidelines for automakers to help address the potential hazards of complicated car controls.

The Senior Director of Federal Policy for Consumers Union Ellen Bloom said, "Distracted driving has become an epidemic on the road. The problem isn't limited to drivers who text on their smart phones. There's a serious concern about in-dash controls that may be very distracting when you're behind the wheel. These guidelines are aimed at getting automakers to focus on safer tools in the dash that take less of your attention away from the road."

Visit our distracted driving special section to learn about the problem and become safer behind the wheel.

The new guidelines include recommendations to limit the time a driver must take his eyes off the road to perform any task to 2 seconds at a time and 12 seconds total. They encourage automakers to disable manual texting, social media access, web browsing features, and video-based calling unless a vehicle is stopped and in park.

These recommendations are just the first piece of a DOT plan to help reduce distracted driving and consequently, save lives. The next steps are to look at connecting and accessing smart phone's and other portable electronic devices' features in vehicles and using voice-control systems.

Consumer Reports has long complained about complicated, distracting controls with systems such as MyFord/MyLincoln Touch and Cadillac CUE. And we have found drivers agree.

The upcoming June 2013 edition of Consumer Reports (online in early May) has a national survey on distracted driving. We asked consumers about sophisticated control systems in vehicles, such as touch screens and multifunction controllers. Among those who had such vehicles, half said they found performing common tasks, such as adjusting the radio and cabin temperature, somewhat or very distracting.

Consumer Reports thinks is these guidelines are an important step to improving car safety and setting common goals for manufacturers, especially amid market pressure to one-up the competition.

For more on distracted driving see our special section.

Liza Barth

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