Transportation Nation

Feds Pitch First-Ever Distracted Driving Guidelines For Automakers

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ford dashboard (image from

Automakers should disable potentially distracting technology unless the car is turned off -- or in "park."

That's the message from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which unveiled the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage manufacturers to keep dashboard distractions to a minimum.

The guidelines -- which are voluntary --  would apply to "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle."

The public can comment on the guidelines for the next 60 days. Read the full release below.


U.S. Department of Transportation Proposes ‘Distraction’ Guidelines for Automakers 

Proposed recommendations would encourage manufacturers to develop
“less distracting” in-vehicle electronic devices 

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices.  The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle.

Issued by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the guidelines would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers. The announcement of the guidelines comes just days after President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request, which includes $330 million over six years for distracted driving programs that increase awareness of the issue and encourage stakeholders to take action.

“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,” said Secretary LaHood. “These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages.”

Geared toward light vehicles (cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, minivans, and other vehicles rated at not more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight), the guidelines proposed today are the first in a series of guidance documents NHTSA plans to issue to address sources of distraction that require use of the hands and/or diversion of the eyes from the primary task of driving.

In particular, the Phase I proposed guidelines released today recommend criteria that manufacturers can use to ensure the systems or devices they provide in their vehicles are less likely to distract the driver with tasks not directly relevant to safely operating the vehicle, or cause undue distraction by engaging the driver’s eyes or hands for more than a very limited duration while driving. Electronic warning system functions such as forward-collision or lane departure alerts would not be subject to the proposed guidelines, since they are intended to warn a driver of a potential crash and are not considered distracting devices.

“We recognize that vehicle manufacturers want to build vehicles that include the tools and conveniences expected by today’s American drivers,” said NHTSA 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 proposed Phase I distraction guidelines include recommendations to:

  • ·         Reduce complexity and task length required by the device;
  • ·         Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle);
  • ·         Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds in duration;
  • ·         Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view;
  • ·         Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation.

The proposed guidelines would also recommend the disabling of the following operations by in-vehicle electronic devices while driving, unless the devices are intended for use by passengers and cannot reasonably be accessed or seen by the driver, or unless the vehicle is stopped and the transmission shift lever is in park.

  • ·         Visual-manual text messaging;
  • ·         Visual-manual internet browsing;
  • ·         Visual-manual social media browsing;
  • ·         Visual-manual navigation system destination entry by address;
  • ·         Visual-manual 10-digit phone dialing;
  • ·         Displaying to the driver more than 30 characters of text unrelated to the driving task.

NHTSA is also considering future, Phase II proposed guidelines that might address devices or systems that are not built into the vehicle but are brought into the vehicle and used while driving, including aftermarket and portable personal electronic devices such as navigation systems, smart phones, electronic tablets and pads, and other mobile communications devices. A third set of proposed guidelines (Phase III) may address voice-activated controls to further minimize distraction in factory-installed, aftermarket, and portable devices.

The Phase I guidelines were published in today’s Federal Register and members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposal for 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after the agency reviews and analyzes and responds to public input.

NHTSA will also hold public hearings on the proposed guidelines to solicit public comment.  The hearings will take place in March and will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington D.C

To view today’s proposed electronic equipment guidelines, click here.

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The Takeaway

Is President Obama's Former Chrysler Worth $1 Million?

Monday, January 30, 2012

How much would you pay for a 2005 Chrysler? Well, an anonymous seller on eBay is asking for a million dollars, but it's no ordinary car. The Chrysler once belonged to none other than President Barack Obama, who used it when on trips home to Chicago when he was just a Senator from Illinois. So is a President's former sedan really worth one million dollars?


Transportation Nation

It's Morning in Hamtramck (Or: Let's Put the Nightmare Of The Volt Battery Fire Hearing Behind Us)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

On the heels of a blistering Congressional hearing yesterday, where officials from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration were accused of sacrificing public safety to protect the government's investment in General Motors (sample tweet from committee chair, Republican Darrell Issa: @GOPOversight's Mike Kelly "takes the gloves off" to deliver accountability for #ChevyVolt subsidies you paid for), GM's new Volt ad is more in line with President Obama's take on the auto bailout in the State of the Union: “We bet on American workers.  We bet on American ingenuity.  And tonight, the American auto industry is back.”

The ad is the latest in a spate of 'Detroit pride'- themed commercials (think 'Eminem's "this is the Motor City. This is what we do"' Chrysler commercial from last year's Superbowl). In this one, a Chevrolet Volt assembly line winds through the streets of Hamtramck, Michigan -- described by Chevy as "a city within a city in the heart of Detroit."

“This isn’t just the car we wanted to build,” a narrator intones. “This is the car America had to build.” Watch below!

(Hat tip to The Hill)

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The Takeaway

Flash Forward: What's Ahead for the Auto Industry?

Monday, January 09, 2012

There's optimism in Detroit. Back from bankruptcy the "Detroit Three" of GM, Chrysler and Ford are all making money and they're pouring money into engineering and designing cars that can go head to head with the best in the industry. The 2012 North American International Auto Show kicks off this week in Detroit. 

Comments [2]

Transportation Nation

Do Higher Cafe Standards Create Jobs?

Friday, December 02, 2011

(Photo (cc) by Flickr user KSGR)

WNYC's Economic Editor, Charlie Herman, has been examining where jobs could come from in this economy, and on the Takeaway today he quotes Klaus Kleinfeld, the head of Alcoa, as saying (about a minute and a half in):

"Suddenly the automakers are saying we have to make our cars more fuel efficient so they look for lightweighting  and they don't want to compromise safety, so then they look at what is the materials they should to choose and they chose aluminum."

Herman says Alcoa is expanding a factory, spending $300 million, and creating 300 jobs.

He says the cafe standards are a "requirement the government is putting on the auto industry that is having trickle down effect.  It will  also make US cars more competitive around the globe, where fuel efficient cars are more in demand."

Full audio here:

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Transportation Nation

Drag Racing and Drug Smuggling Drive Houston's Car Thefts

Monday, November 21, 2011

Photo by Gail Delaughter/KUHF

(Houston, TX -- Gail Delaughter, KUHF)  When you check out the list of most stolen vehicles in Houston you typically see heavy-duty trucks, usually Ford and Chevys.  But during the month of October Honda cars took the top spot. Police say close to two hundred Hondas were reported stolen, and they have a good idea as to why those cars are popular with thieves.

"People have gone out and taken some older cars, turned around and upgraded the motors and transmissions for street racing," said Houston Police Department Auto Theft Investigator Jim Woods.

He explained that Honda has turned out a lot of cars over the years and that means there's a lot of available vehicles. Woods says motors burn out during the wear and tear of street racing, so thieves will go looking for a vehicle they can use for replacement parts. Cars that are modified for racing can also wind up stolen.

"So if you have somebody that's got a car they've turned around, and made some modifications to, they could have put quite a bit of money into it. And performance-wise it could have a lot more horsepower that what it was originally designed for," Woods added.

And while cars top the list of stolen vehicles, Woods says trucks are still popular targets. He says stolen trucks are often taken to border areas where they're used to transport illegal immigrants. They're also used to smuggle drugs. Trucks are preferred by thieves who want to evade police, Wood, says. "They just drive [the stolen vehicle] off-road and drive as far back as they can before everybody bails out."

Noticeably absent from Houston's stolen-car list are high-end vehicles like Mercedes and BMW. Woods says the reason for that is that luxury cars aren't sold in the same volume as less-expensive vehicles. Also manufacturers have made those cars harder to steal.

Listen to the radio version of this story at KUHF.

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The Brian Lehrer Show

Behind the Wheel: Looking Ahead

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This month's Brian Lehrer Show series on cars and driving continues with a look at the automotive industry in 2012 with Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at and editor in chief of

Comments [10]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Behind the Wheel: Buying a Car, Used and New

Friday, October 21, 2011

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at and editor in chief of, continues this month's Brian Lehrer Show series on cars and driving with a discussion on buying a car, whether it's used or new.

Comments [13]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Behind the Wheel: Rentals and Car Shares

Thursday, October 13, 2011

This month's Brian Lehrer Show series on cars and driving continues with car shares and rentals - and we take your calls on what you use. Our guest is Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at and editor in chief of

Comments [21]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Car Trouble

Friday, October 07, 2011

Bill Vlasic, Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times and author of Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America's Big Three Auto Makers - GM, Ford and Chrysler, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the near-collapse of the U.S. automotive giants following the 2008 financial crisis.

Comments [4]

Transportation Nation

Accident Investigations: What Happens During Houston Highway Shutdowns

Friday, October 07, 2011

(photo by Gail Delaughter)

If you hear a radio traffic reporter in Houston say that a portion of the freeway is closed because of an "accident investigation," it usually means there's been a fatality. Drivers can expect lengthy backups for at least the next couple of hours as busy roadways grind to a sudden halt. They'll then have to detour onto feeder roads and neighborhood streets. But what, exactly, are the police doing?

Houston Assistant Police Chief John Trevino says on any given weekend there's at least one freeway shutdown, and it's usually the result of an accident caused by a drunk driver. Houston bars close at 2:00 AM and a wreck shortly thereafter can keep a roadway closed until well after sunrise.  Police have to gather evidence for felony cases as serious as intoxication manslaughter. In Texas  that offense could get someone up to ten years in prison.

Trevino says when there's been a fatality,  the police department sends a team of six accident investigators. They take photos, measure skid marks, and examine debris patterns. Not wanting to cause another accident, police set up two separate barricades to ensure investigators' safety as traffic is detoured off the freeway. A prosecutor from the district attorney's office also reports to the scene, and Trevino says that can also add to the closure time if there's a delay in getting someone there.

If the wreck involves an eighteen-wheeler or a fuel spill, the shutdown could last even longer. Trevino says if there's damage to a bridge or overpass, a crew from the Texas Department of Transportation has to make an assessment before the road can reopen.

And, like any crime scene,  it's crucial to gather evidence quickly. Troy Walden with the Texas Transportation Institute says if cars were allowed to pass while police did their investigation, it would be much more difficult to figure out what happened.

"For instance you have short-lived evidence such as your skid marks and debris patterns such as glass patterns that are spread across the roadway surfaces, fluid transfer. And all those things are very short-lived evidence. And in order to be able to capture that, we have to shut it down so that other cars don't run through and disrupt the patterns and eradicate a lot of the evidence."

Houston police say if there's a high-profile accident they may have to shut down the freeway a second time for additional investigation, but they try to do it at a time when there's the least inconvenience to drivers.

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Transportation Nation

NY: NJ Drivers Are Terrible; NJ: No, You Are; Expert: You're Both Bad

Thursday, October 06, 2011

(photo by Elizabeth Thomsen via Flickr)

The Brian Lehrer Show kicked off their month-long series about driving today. This week's installment: the differences between New York and New Jersey drivers--and which flavor is worse. But the guest, Michelle Krebs of Edmunds and, debunked the premise right away.

"Most states are full of really bad drivers," she said.  "Part of it is because we never go back and take driving lessons again, (and) it's really important because the technology changes."

Some callers wanted to expand the conversation beyond the two states. For example, Jordan in Mamaroneck "learned to drive a stick shift on Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn." He continued: "I can tell you from regular experience...the scariest license plate on the road is not New York or New Jersey, it's Connecticut."

To hear how local drivers are stymied by highway turning lanes called jughandles, making a right turn on red, and undertaking a maneuver known as "the Jersey Left," listen to the segment below.


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The Brian Lehrer Show

Behind the Wheel: License to Drive

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at and editor in chief of, kicks off a Brian Lehrer Show series on cars and driving with a discussion on the peculiarities of driving in New York and New Jersey.

Comments [57]

Studio 360

Electric Cars Go Boom

Friday, August 19, 2011

Maybe it is (finally) the dawn of the electric car era. Most major automakers have electric models in the works for 2012, and some, like the Nissan Leaf, are already silently purring around town. No one can argue against reducing oil consumption, but batteries could make things just a bit harder for Hollywood ...

Comments [7]

The Takeaway

The Science Fiction Future of Fuel Efficient Cars

Friday, July 29, 2011

Later today, President Obama plans to announce a major agreement between the White House and the nation’s top automakers. By 2025, cars sold domestically will have to drive 54.5 miles to the gallon. The president hopes this move will dramatically decrease the country’s need for foreign oil,  but this agreement  may also dramatically change the face of the American highway as we know it.

Comments [1]

The Brian Lehrer Show

Passing on Tolls

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sam Schwartz, president of the NYC Bridge Centennial Commission, president and CEO of the traffic planning and engineering firm Sam Schwartz Engineering PLLC and Daily News columnist, and WNYC reporter and Transportation Nation blog director Andrea Bernstein talk about strategies for avoiding tolls, including free bridges and E-Z Pass discounts, and the resignation of MTA Chairman and CEO Jay Walder. 

Comments [12]

The Takeaway

Nation Building: Car Technology

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

President Obama emphasized nation building in his speech last week, announcing his plans for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. We have been asking Takeaway listeners: how would you like to see the government spend all of the money once spent on wars, here at home?  

Many of you would like to see improvements in energy and a shift away from foreign oil dependence. President Obama suggested requiring all cars and light trucks to run at 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025. Is this feasible?

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

Amtrak California Ridership Hits Record Numbers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A billboard for Amtrak California.

(San Francisco – KALW) California's high-speed rail project may be struggling to find funding, but it's not because nobody wants to ride trains.

The state's transportation department, known as Caltrans, reports that ridership on Amtrak's California lines is up significantly. The Capitol Corridor route saw an increase of almost 10% over the past year, while ridership on the San Joaquin route went up nearly 13%.

Revenue on the San Joaquin route increased by 19%.

The numbers – which, according to Caltrans, are at an all-time high – are notable because the routes are similar to those eventually envisioned for the state's high-speed rail system, linking the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Bakersfield.

Caltrans rail marketing chief Debbie Mullins said a large part of the increased ridership could be attributed to high gas prices. But, she said, advertising matters. Beginning in March, Amtrak undertook a $1.3 million PR blitz, stringing billboards around major freeway corridors in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and the Central Valley. The billboards were black and white, with colorful icons showing all the benefits of riding a train: food, power outlets, etc. They also featured 26 different taglines emphasizing the benefits of train travel over both cars and planes ("Experience space travel," "There's no backseat driver when there's no backseat"). Mullins said Amtrak is planning a more comprehensive study to quantify the effects of billboard and online campaigns.

What does this say about the state's appetite for high-speed rail? Mullins declined to speculate, but she did note that Amtrak ridership has risen steadily despite fluctuating gas prices. "People recognize the amenities of the train: food, electricity, just the freedom to walk around," she said. "Once they're introduced to that, they look at the train with a whole new set  of eyes."

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The Takeaway

Chevy Dealers Selling Volts, Taking Tax Rebate for Themselves

Friday, June 03, 2011

With gas prices on the rise, and energy policy in the headlines, both consumers and governments have reason to be happy about GM’s new hybrid, the Chevy Volt. The car is still in limited supply, and it’s pretty expensive — near $50,000. But for those who can get their hands on a brand new Chevy Volt, the government has added an incentive — a tax rebate of $7,500. However, as Mary Chapman writes in The New York Times "Wheels" blog, that deal may have been a little too sweet. Car dealers across the country have begun snatching up the rebate for themselves, and leaving their customers in the dust.


The Takeaway

Indy 500: Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

Friday, May 27, 2011

This weekend marks one hundred years since the first driver put tires to the starting line at the Indy 500, America’s most competitive car race. Sports writer Charlie Leerhsen is the author of "Blood and Smoke, A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500." Leerhsen discusses a century's worth of squealing tires and helps solve a lingering mystery from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's very first race.