The topic of distracted driving is often discussed in regards to texting while driving. While that may be one aspect, the truth is there is plenty of opportunity to be distracted while behind the wheel. In addition to smartphones, you also have stand-alone navigation devices and increasingly, touchscreen devices sitting in the dash.

On that note, US traffic safety regulators have recently released a set of voluntary guidelines to help keep drivers focused on the road ahead. Coming along with the published guidelines, the US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said that while they feel that “distracted driving is a deadly epidemic” they acknowledge that “today’s drivers appreciate technology.” With that in mind, LaHood went on to talk about how they are trying to find “a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need.”

According to LaHood, this balance will eventually include a mix of laws, enforcement and driver education. For now though, these guidelines are just that, guidelines. These begin with a recommendation to limit the amount of time a driver must remove their eyes from the road to perform a task. For this they are suggesting that be limited to two seconds at a time and twelve seconds in total. They are also suggesting that some options be disabled unless the vehicle is in park. These options include manual text entry on a device (to include texting), no video-based entertainment or communications and even restricting any incoming text messages and social media updates.

Anyway, these guidelines come as a result of a recent study. Said study found that “visual-manual tasks can degrade a driver’s focus and increase the risk of getting into a crash up to three times.” Some of the higher risk activities were shown to be text messaging and even answering the phone. In that case of text messaging, the study noted an increased risk of crash by two times due to the driver’s eyes being off the road for an average of 23 seconds. Similarly, activities such as reaching for your phone and then looking up a contact and dialing increased the risk of a crash by three times.

Image credit: mrJasonWeaver on Flickr

[via NHTSA]