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Should Some Apps Be Locked When Driving?

Distracted driving kills about 3,500 people each year. One of the biggest culprits? Smartphone apps. To reduce the number of road fatalities caused by distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued voluntary guidelines for Smartphone manufacturers. The guidelines ask Smartphone manufacturers to incorporate features that block some video displays and limit the ability to enter text when a vehicle is in motion. Under the guidelines, maps to facilitate navigation would still be permitted.

As with other "voluntary" guidelines issued by government agencies, there is the implied threat that these guidelines could become mandatory regulations should the affected parties fail to incorporate them into the products they manufacture. Interestingly, Smartphone manufacturers and auto manufacturers have somewhat different reactions to NHTSA's guidelines. The Consumer Technology Association, a trade group whose membership includes Apple and Samsung, the two largest Smartphone manufacturers, has voiced opposition to the guidelines, as has CTIA, an industry association representing device manufacturers, wireless carriers and app developers. They characterize the guidelines as extreme and say that they would inhibit innovation. On the other hand, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, whose members include Ford, General Motors and Toyota, reacted more cautiously, saying that it would review the guidelines.

Precise figures on the actual number of people killed while using handheld devices are not available. This is because police officers at the scene of accidents usually cannot know whether a driver was using a device at the time of the accident. What does seem certain however, is that distracted driving from all causes (including use of handheld devices, eating, dealing with unruly children, changing radio channels, etc.) does cause a significant number of traffic accidents. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that about 10 percent of traffic fatalities can be blamed on distracted driving of all types.

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