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Federal agencies proposing regulatory intervention to stop distracted driving

Distracted driving is among the biggest causes of motor vehicle accidents nowadays, with at least 3,500 deaths being caused last year by the activity. There are, of course, a wide variety of behaviors that qualify as distracted driving, but one of the most significant categories is mobile device use.

Although there are a variety of ways for smartphone owners to avoid using their device while driving—such as silencing it, shutting it off, or keeping it out of reach—many drivers are not responsible enough to put their phone aside while driving. This is unfortunate, and it has prompted manufacturers, regulators and safety advocates to take steps to address the situation. 

One example on the regulatory side involves the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which recently urged manufacturers to add features to mobile devices that would prevent drivers from using certain phone functions that are closely associated with distracted driving accidents. The agency actually released a set of guidelines for this purpose. One option suggested by the guidelines is that manufacturers create a “driver mode” which would disable phone features.

Many in the tech industry did not receive the guidelines well, and characterized them as overreaching, but the guidelines are certainly less imposing than the outright ban on mobile device use by drivers suggested by the National Transportation Safety Board. Some states, of course, already do heavily regulate or ban mobile device use by drivers, but a federal ban would be the ultimate government intervention in this area of American life.

In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this issue, as well as the issue of liability for distracted driving

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