After an initial focus on Texting and Driving, DoT head Ray LaHood and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are looking to expand the scope of Distracted Driving campaigns and legislation to include a wide variety of in car devices.

As web and entertainment functionality is increasingly available on mobile devices, car manufacturers have been working on adding more ‘infotainment’ into their vehicles, and other companies have been promoting products that allow for driver-visible mounting of smartphones.

The government and safety bodies see this as a dangerous trend  which goes against their stated aim of reducing driver distraction and the death/injury toll associated with it.

Consequently, LaHood is taking an aggressive stance towards any expansion in such in-car technology, and is making it plain he isn’t pleased with the trend toward putting more media feeds and gadgetry into new vehicles:

“There’s absolutely no reason for any person to download their Facebook into the car,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in an interview. “It’s not necessary.”

The DoT and NHTSA have the power to limit the infotainment technology built into cars if they can demonstrate a threat to safety, and they are applying pressure to vehicle manufacturers to fall into line.

While manufacturers have played an active role in anti-texting and driving campaigns, they have to date been very keen to promote the growth of in-car screens and integration with web/social networking functionality, in an attempt to target the youth market. Current projections indicate rapid growth in in-car entertainment devices.

This effectively puts them on a collision course with the DoT and NHTSA, as the department aims to finish work by early 2012 on a new set of guidelines governing the design and operation of in-vehicle communications technology. The DoT is asking for a US$50 million budget increase in 2012, specifically to crack down on drivers distracted by text messaging.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told a Telematics conference in Detroit:

“I’m just putting everyone on notice. A car is not a mobile device. I’m not in the business of helping people tweet better. I’m not in the business of helping people post on Facebook better.”

Australia and other countries have legislation prohibiting ‘Visual Displays’ that are visible to the driver whilst driving, and this has recently been expanded to specifically cover use of smartphones for purposes other than talking and GPS, even if the phone is mounted.

U.S. drivers and companies can expect to see an increasing focus on communication, entertainment and computing devices in relation to distracted driving.

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