Lawmakers in the United States as well as regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have often been critical of certain vehicle technologies that have the potential to distract drivers while they are behind the wheel. The automakers have issued a response of their own to this recent wave of criticism by saying that the NHTSA should expand their crackdown on electronic distractions to also include outside electronic devices such as smart phones and other hand held devices.
In its efforts to crack down on distracted driving, the NHTSA has largely focused its cross-hairs on various types of vehicle infotainment systems, but many in the industry feel that the NHTSA should expand its efforts to also include items that drivers bring into the vehicle with them. Numerous automakers are quick to state that their hands free infotainment systems help drivers to focus better on the road while driving wheras traditional hand-held devices are the root cause of many types of distractions.
Rob Strassburger, a leading safety official for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, appeared to suggest that if the NHTSA were to ban automakers from equipping hands-free phones to their products, drivers would quickly revert to hand-held devices which would ultimately cause a bigger distraction to a driver behind the wheel. In a recent statement to the Detroit News, he said, “If the use of one option is curtailed, drivers will migrate quickly to others that are not restricted.” BMW North America vice president of engineering Tom Bologna echoed a similar view to Strassburger stating, “If cupholders were banned from vehicles, does that mean people would no longer bring coffee into the vehicle?”
In addition to the possible outright ban of hands-free systems, Many automakers are also concerned that the NHTSA’s proposed regulations would also force them to extensively redesign the types of built in vehicle technologies they would be able to offer to drivers for very little actual gain in safety. Mercedes USA’s senior manager for safety affairs Markus Heuss shares a similar belief stating, “This would be a very resource-intensive process and would not provide safety benefits to the driving public.”
The NHTSA for its part is currently holding hearings to help determine what kinds of options the agency has in its efforts to reduce distracted driving. A formal announcement on any possible future regulations is expected to be released in about a year.