Carmakers should disable built-in electronic devices while the vehicle's in motion, under new proposals from transportation secretary Ray LaHood.
The move could see restrictions on all communication, entertainment and navigation devices, from texting to entering addresses into GPS systems. Electronic warning systems such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would be exempt.
"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways – that's why I've made it a priority to encourage people to stay focused behind the wheel," says LaHood.
"These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."
LaHood wants manufacturers to make devices less complex, and limit device operation to one hand. Users shouldn't need to look away from the road for more than two seconds, and there should be limits on the amount of visual information presented to the driver, as well as on
the number of manual inputs required.
Many actions should only be available to passengers, say the guidelines, and shouldn't even be visible to the driver. These include text messaging, internet and social media browsing, entering addresses into navigation systems and 10-digit phone dialing.
And the department's also considering introducing restrictions on devices that aren't built in, such as navigation systems, smartphones, tablets and pads and other mobile communications devices.
"We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today's American drivers," says National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator David Strickland.
"The guidelines we're proposing would offer real-world guidance to automakers to help them develop electronic devices that provide features consumers want—without disrupting a driver's attention or sacrificing safety."
The guidelines have received a cautious welcome from car manufacturers.
"Digital technology has created a connected culture in America that has forever changed our society. Consumers expect to have access to new technology, so integrating and adapting this technology to enable safe driving is the solution," says the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
"Drivers are going to have conversations, listen to music and read maps while driving, and automakers are helping them do this more safely with integrated hands-free systems that help drivers focus on the road."