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Facebook, Twitter focus of car regulations for distracted drivers

Ford's ROXIMITY application allows drivers to find nearby

Ford's ROXIMITY application allows drivers to find nearby destinations from the center console of their vehicle. Credit: Ford Motor Company

U.S. regulators today issued guidelines for automakers intended to limit distractions from the use of Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. through in-vehicle infotainment systems.

The Transportation Department, in non-binding guidelines, asked automakers to bar the use of social media sites and Internet browsing when a vehicle is moving. Automakers are also urged to design navigation and other screen-based systems so that drivers don’t need to take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds to select an option, or for a total of 12 seconds to complete an entire task such as entering an address.

“We’ve already made good progress in getting cellphones out of peoples’ hands when they’re behind the wheel,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today on a conference call with reporters. “Cellphones aren’t the only distractions.”

A study released today, funded with a Transportation Department grant, found that hands-free texting distracted drivers just as much as messaging with a device in one’s hands. Participants in the study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute drove on a closed course while typing text messages with their hands and sending them hands-free using Apple Inc.’s Siri and Google Inc.’s Android Vlingo system.

Both methods slowed driver reaction times nearly two times what they’d be when not texting, the study found, with drivers taking longer to complete a text when speaking than when manually typing.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Transportation Department, on April 5 said about 660,000 drivers in the U.S. are using mobile phones or other handheld electronic devices while driving at any time. Citing data it collects, the agency said in 2011 more than 3,300 deaths and more than 387,000 injuries in the U.S. were linked to distracted driving.

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