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April 23, 2013 4:00 PM, EDT

NHTSA Pushes to Limit Distractions from Electronics in Cars

The federal government issued guidelines Tuesday to encourage automakers to limit the potential for driver distractions from electronic systems built into passenger cars, including those that connect to cellphones and the Internet.

The voluntary standards from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ask manufacturers to block access to Web browsing and social media unless a vehicle is parked and to incorporate technology in their vehicles that would limit small distracting tasks to two seconds and more time-intensive tasks to 12 seconds.

The standards do not apply to vehicles with a weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds.

“Distracted driving is unsafe, irresponsible and can have devastating consequences,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters Tuesday. “Every single time a driver takes his or her focus off the road, they put their lives, and the lives of others, in danger.”

The voluntary guidelines will phase in over three years, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.

Though the standards don’t apply to heavy trucks, Strickland said the agency, along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which directly oversees heavy-truck regulation, is researching in-cab distractions in heavy vehicles and the potential need for standards specific to those vehicles.

“At this point right now, we don’t have a definitive timeline on integrating that into heavy vehicles,” Strickland said, noting the special circumstances for heavy vehicles, including the widespread use of telematics systems.