NHTSA proposes voluntary ban on drivers' use of 'distracting devices'

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed voluntary guidelines for manufacturers that would automatically disable hand-held and factory installed devices in vehicles that distract from driving.

The proposal recommends that devices including GPS systems would not functional unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission is in park.

Carmakers will review the guidelines and will have 60-day period to comment, according to a car industry spokeswoman.

GPS and other navigation devices that provide directions would also be permitted while driving, but the safety administration is asking that the systems be designed so that drivers can't manually enter a destination unless the car is in park.

Other dashboard technologies recommended for automatic disabling include text-messaging, Internet browsing, social media browsing, phone dialing and computer screen messages of 30 characters or more unrelated to driving.

The guidelines would make exceptions for these devices if they are designed only for use by passengers and can't be accessed or seen by the driver.

The NHTSA is also considering future guidelines to address portable electronic devices drivers carry with them in cars, including GPS navigation systems, smartphones, and electronic tablets and pads.

In December, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents, said that texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed and urged all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.

Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, and nine states and the District of Columbia bar hand-held cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for all drivers.

Texting while driving increased 50 percent in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the NHTSA.

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