Feds seek a driver mode for your phone: NMA E-Newsletter #412

In late November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked smartphone manufacturers and automakers to work together to develop a “driver mode” for mobile devices for use in the car. The 96-page document of voluntary guidelines calls for cars to be more easily paired with mobile devices so that drivers can access them through an in-vehicle interface. The “airplane mode for the car” would lock out the ability to type text messages and to view social media, apps and website displays for everything non-map related.

NHTSA officials say that creating a driver mode for mobile devices would be voluntary. That is how most other safety devices, now mandatory, first started. The big difference though between this proposal and devices such as airbags and seatbelts is that mobile phones are external to the car design.

Many questions arise about driver mode.

  • Would motorists be allowed to opt out of driver mode when purchasing a new car since this is a voluntary program?
  • Would motorists be pressured by their own insurance company to use driver mode every time the insured vehicle is driven? How would the insurance company monitor the use of driver mode?
  • Would motorists be required to engage driver mode with their own personal phones when driving company fleet vehicles, carshare vehicles and rental cars?
  • Would motorists be required to use driver mode every time they drive in order to register his or her vehicle every year? How would this be monitored?
  • Would driver mode be extended to passengers?
  • Shouldn’t car infotainment centers be subject to the same rules as phones and other mobile devices while driving?

Joe, an NMA member from Montana, has some experience with a similar device on a company fleet vehicle. He shared these thoughts after news broke on the proposed guidelines: 

A few years ago my company decided everyone needed to stop checking e-mail, texting, etc. from their phone while driving so they forced us to download an app called Cellcontrol, and also install the required device on the vehicle’s windshield. The device talked to the phone via Bluetooth.

As soon as the vehicle exceeded about 3 MPH, the phone would automatically lock, completely kicking you out of whatever app you were using, even something useful like weather. Stop moving and the phone would automatically unlock. Phone calls could still be played over the vehicle’s Bluetooth connection while you were moving, but because the phone linked to the Cellcontrol device via Bluetooth, the audio had a very distinct chopping sound to it, kind of like “picket fencing” on an FM station.  

Overall the experience was very frustrating and probably not successful in reducing crashes or whatever the company thought it would reduce (we could still use our laptops to check e-mail/web while driving). Last year we were given instructions on how to delete the app and told it was ok to remove the device from the windshield and throw it out. Phone Freedom Day finally arrived! 

Share your views on NHTSA’s proposed Distraction Guidelines by posting your comments HERE.

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