We here at the Dashboard are fond of writing about the ongoing evolution of the automotive industry into a technology industry. It seems that the folks at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have been watching the same evolution. Just last week, NHTSA released voluntary guidelines to address driver distraction. These guidelines, Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for Portable and Aftermarket Devices, seek to further reduce driver distraction, thus reducing traffic accidents and fatalities.

How do they do this?

A few ways. First, the guidelines apply to mobile devise manufacturers and application/software developers. Thus, NHTSA is not setting guidelines for companies like Samsung, Google, Apple, etc. Second, the guidelines “encourage innovative solutions such as pairing and Driver Mode that, when implemented, will reduce the potential for unsafe driver distraction…” Third, the guidelines recommend that mobile device functions be limited when paired with a vehicle. This would prevent drivers from watching videos, or entering text, or internet browsing while driving. Of course, the Guidelines are 96 pages long – they do more, read them.

While the reduction of traffic accidents is a laudable goal, one has to ask: Is NHTSA already behind the times? Will there regulations go into effect and then, driverless cars will rule the road? Are these a stopgap for the next 5-15 years until older cars are off the road? Driver distraction is bad. Accidents are bad. But, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are already pretty ubiquitous in new vehicles. The impact of voluntary guidelines at this stage should not hurt, but the question of how much impact they have is certainly an open one.