Is Your Infotainment System Causing You to Be a Distracted Driver?

The NHTSA recently proposed guidelines to help curb the level of distraction caused by onboard infotainment systems. Find out what the NHTSA is asking of carmakers.

Earlier this month, we brought you news of exciting car-tech innovations from Audi. At the time, we voiced our concern about the potential distraction some of these new gadgets pose (looking at you, integrated Twitter and Facebook). Turns out we weren’t alone.

The NHTSA’s concern with onboard infotainment systems

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed guidelines to help curb the level of distraction onboard infotainment systems cause. The guidelines apply to communication, entertainment, info-gathering, and navigation devices. In other words, all those devices drivers don’t need to … well … drive.

While texting and driving has garnered a lot of press in the last few years, the issue of onboard infotainment systems hasn’t factored into the distracted driving conversation nearly as much. But now, thanks to these innovative in-car technologies, drivers can text BFFs, update their status on Facebook, or let loose with a witty tweet — all while cruising down the road. As a techie at heart, Esurance loves technology as much as the next guy. But as an insurance company, we feel there’s a time and a place for everything — and the highway is no place for multitasking.

How dangerous is distracted driving?

Just how big is this issue? Big enough that the NHTSA has set up distraction.gov, a site completely devoted to distracted driving (namely how to prevent it). The site claims that in 2010 alone over 3,000 people died in distracted driving–related crashes. And that distracted driving statistic doesn’t even include injury accidents (448,000 in 2009) or fender-benders.

NHTSA’s distracted driving guidelines

So, just what is the NHTSA proposing automakers do? Here are their guidelines for in-vehicle electronic devices:

  • Simplify interactions and the time needed to work these devices, with off-road glances of no more than 2 seconds
  • Make it easy to handle devices with one hand (so the other hand is free to stay on the steering wheel)
  • Limit the number of manual inputs needed to operate these devices
  • Limit unessential info in the driver’s field of view

The guidelines also suggest including a feature to disable in-vehicle electronic devices until the car is put into park — unless the device is far enough out of the driver’s view and reach to preclude distraction. The good news is that this technology already exists. Some carmakers already use it for their built-in GPS systems. As annoyed as you might be when you have to pull over to use your device, think about the potential accident you’re avoiding. Worth it, right?

Though the NHTSA isn’t forcing these restrictions (yet), we’re optimistic that automakers will take them seriously. To do so, however, they’ll have to strike a balance between providing the technology consumers want and including the safety features they need.

Obama on distracted driving

On a related note, President Obama’s recent budget request put aside $330 million for distracted driving awareness programs. And if the NHTSA has its way, the only connecting we’ll be doing in our cars is with the road.

Speaking of cars and staying connected, for lots of driving-related updates, you can connect with us on our Facebook page. But please wait until you’re out of the car and safely settled at your cubicle … er … at home.

Want to know more? Read the NHTSA’s press release.

Related links

Top 5 dangers of eating and driving
Car tech innovations from Audi
Full text of NHTSA’s infotainment guidelines (PDF)

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