The U.S. government urges smartphone makers to develop a piece of software that will block a user’s access to apps whenever that user is driving. Officials think a smart ban on apps could help fix the growing problem that is distracted driving.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) disclosed a set of voluntary guidelines Wednesday. The federal agency also wants smartphone manufacturers to find a way to pair phones more easily with cars’ infotainment systems.
Distracted Driving a Problem in the U.S.
Under the new rules, drivers would be able to make calls but the infotainment system would prevent them from texting or using apps while driving. The system will also block access to Internet, videos, e-books, and images if the media content isn’t related to driving. Navigation systems will remain functional, but developers will add guidelines to prevent distracted driving.
Distracted drivers account for a spike in car crashes on the U.S. roads. In the past two years, distracted driving led to a steady rise in traffic deaths. Government data shows that distracted driving was behind 10 percent of traffic deaths last year. This marks a rise from 8.8 percent in 2014. In 2015, there were over 35,000 traffic deaths. Experts noted traffic fatalities jumped 10.4 percent this year after rising 7.2 the year prior ending a years-long decline.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Wednesday the agency is committed to collaborating with the industry to stop distracted driving-related fatalities. The U.S. government wants the next generation of mobile devices to help drivers keep their eyes on the road.
Automakers, however, have already built infotainment systems that restrict app use while driving. For instance, Apple’s Android Auto and CarPlay pair smartphones to vehicles’ infotainment systems while setting restrictions on phone use.
In addition, 40 models of vehicles from General Motors now have infotainment systems that are compatible with Apple and Android devices. The system’s software prevents the use of many phone functions to prevent distracted driving.
What’s more the systems selectively prevent drivers from typing text messages but they can text by voice. The company said the features seek to help drivers keep their eyes on the road and hands on the wheel, as they should.
NHTSA’s Proposed Solution
The NHTSA, on the other hand, wants these systems to be able to detect whether a phone user is driving a car and disable apps by default. Federal officials acknowledged the technology is inexistent, but they suggested a workaround.
They instructed smartphone makers to insert a “driver mode” in their products. Phone owners can activate the mode whenever they are behind the wheel. The NHTSA’s guidelines are not final. The agency is open to public comment for two months before it decides to finalize them. Nevertheless, even after the deadline, the guidelines won’t be mandatory to car and cellphone makers.
The government’s move comes months after the release of the wildly popular augmented-reality mobile game Pokemon Go. Across the U.S. dozens of drivers plowed into trees, schools, other cars and even ran over pedestrians because they were too busy catching pokemons. In August, a car crash claimed the life of one woman in Japan because the driver was playing Pokemon Go.
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