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Federal Distracted Driver Guidelines for Auto Manufacturers Set the Stage for Regulation of Mobile Devices and Tablets in Cars

April 24, 2013

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has released Phase 1 of its Driver Distraction Guidelines, which apply to the visual-manual interfaces of Original Equipment (i.e., auto manufacturer) electronic devices installed in vehicles.  These Guidelines are likely to set a precedent for DOT’s Phase 2 guidelines, which will apply to "portable or aftermarket devices," including mobile devices and tablets brought into vehicles by consumers.  DOT has specifically identified as an issue for its Phase 2 Guidelines, "how to encourage [consumer] use of the in-vehicle human machine interface" (i.e., the vehicle’s communication system) rather than the interface on a mobile device or tablet used in a vehicle.  Because the vehicle interface should be designed to restrict or "lock out" certain device functions, DOT views the vehicle interface as superior to the interface on a mobile device or tablet, from a public safety and distracted driving perspective.  The Guidelines contain proposals related to Phase 2 that raise public safety and competitive concerns that may be of interest to wireless carriers and device manufacturers.  DOT intends to publish its Phase 2 Guidelines "as soon as feasible."