US regulators seek to reduce road deaths with smartphone ‘driving mode’

smartphone use while driving
While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines have seen wide adoption and implementation. Photograph: Rob Lever/AFP/Getty Images


US regulators are seeking to reduce smartphone-related vehicle deaths with a new driving-safe mode that would block or modify apps to prevent them being a distraction while on the road.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are to issue voluntary guidelines for smartphone makers, which will seek to restrict the apps and services accessible on a smartphone being used by a driver.

US transport secretary Anthony Foxx told the New York Times: “Your smartphone becomes so many different things that it’s not just a communication device. Distraction is still a problem. Too many people are dying and being injured on our roadways.”

The NHTSA is hoping that Apple, Samsung and other popular smartphone manufacturers will adopt the guidelines in future smartphone and software releases. The so-called driving mode will block distractions such as social media, messages or email, stop the use of the keyboard for communication activities and also restrict access to websites, video and distracting graphics.

The intention is that the driving mode will be adopted in a similar manner to the airplane mode common to most smartphones and connected devices, which restricts radio communications while airborne. Airplane mode has been a feature of smartphones since 2007.

While the NHTSA cannot force manufacturers to follow the guidelines, previous guidelines concerning the design and use of navigation and entertainment systems built into cars have seen wide adoption and implementation.

The guidelines for smartphones call for features able to differentiate between drivers and passengers within cars, so that only the driver is shown a simplified and restricted view. They also request a connection between smartphones and in-car controls such as steering wheel buttons, to remove the need to interact with the screen.

two cars following an accident
Data from the NHTSA shows that 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted driving in 2014 in the US. Photograph: Christof R Schmidt/Getty Images/F1online RM

Such driving modes are already implemented within certain Android smartphones, including Samsung models, but they are not compulsory and are up to the users to activate.

Simplified driving mode interfaces are also a feature of several smart in-vehicle mounting options, which aim to collect navigation, music and other driving orientated features into a large button interface that is easier to at arms length and less distracting.

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