Group asks feds to pump brakes on ‘driver mode’ for phones

Group asks feds to pump brakes on ‘driver mode’ for phones
© Greg Nash

A technology consumer group is urging the new administration to halt federal guidelines that encourage cellphone and electronic device makers to design products to minimize the potential for driver distraction.

The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) argues that even though the guidelines are voluntary, they “could have a sweeping effect on the multibillion-dollar market for mobile devices and apps.”

In December 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called for the creation of a “driver mode” for smartphones and other portable devices that drivers can use while operating their vehicle. The goal is to curb road deaths and injuries resulting from smartphone-based distractions, such as texting, phone calls and social media.

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But some technology groups ripped the guidelines as a regulatory overreach and pointed out that auto and tech companies have already created driver-assist technologies and apps that help reduce distractions.

“CTA shares NHTSA's concerns about the hazards of distracted driving,” the CTA said Monday in a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

“However, we believe that the Phase 2 Guidelines takes the wrong approach to this important issue, both in substance and by impermissibly reaching beyond NHTSA's statutory authority under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act."

Pointing to President Trump’s freeze on regulations — which is meant to give the new administration more time to scrutinize pending Obama-era rules — the CTA called on DOT and OMB to also pause and thoroughly review the non-binding guidelines.

“NHTSA’s regulatory premise is dangerously expansive, representing the worst of government overreach,” the CTA said.

“Given the magnitude of the effect that the Phase 2 Guidelines would have on participants across the mobile device ecosystem — as well as on the American public more broadly — we believe it is essential that this guidance project initiated under the last Administration receive a complete de novo review by the Trump Administration.”

The NHTSA had proposed a driver mode that could disable most of a mobile phone’s functions while driving, with the exception of navigation and music apps.

The guidelines also encourage manufacturers to implement features such as pairing, where a portable device is linked to a vehicle’s infotainment system. The NHTSA says the feature helps limit the amount of time that a driver’s eyes are off the road.