Fatal crashes caused by distracted drivers are on the rise, and that’s contributing to a spike in traffic deaths during the past two years. The United States government says 3,477, or about 10 percent, of the more than 35,000 traffic fatalities last year involved distracted drivers. That’s up 8.8 percent over 2014. Traffic deaths spiked 10.4 percent in the first six months of this year and rose 7.2 percent last year, after years of declines.
Because of the largest spike in traffic deaths seen in the past 50 years, the U.S. government wants smartphone makers to lock out most apps when someone driving a car is using the phone.
The voluntary guidelines unveiled Wednesday are designed to reduce car accidents caused by drivers distracted by phones. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also wants automakers to make infotainment systems easy to pair with smartphones.
According to the guidelines, drivers still have the ability to make calls, but the phones and automaker systems would lock out the ability to enter text. Internet browsing, video not related to driving, text from books, and photos also would be locked out. Navigation systems would be permitted, but with guidelines on how to avoid distracted driving.
“With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers’ eyes where they belong – on the road,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement.
At present, the proposed technology does not exist. In its absence, the NHTSA wants phones to have a “driver mode” that would be activated by the smartphone user.
NHTSA will take public comment for 60 days before deciding whether to put the guidelines in place. Unlike a federal government rule, auto and cellphone makers don’t have to obey the guidelines.