Even as truckers routinely encounter the unsafe behaviors of distracted motorists, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has neither the authority nor the expertise to regulate the use of personal electronics, or so says the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.
“OOIDA feels that NHTSA can best serve the public by executing the job that Congress intended it to do rather than trying to expand their jurisdiction in areas where they have no statutory authority,” writes OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spenser. “NHTSA continues to overstep its authority and continues to fail at its mission of saving lives and improving safety.”
The comment comes in response to NHTSA’s proposed guidelines to address driver distraction caused by mobile and other electronic devices in vehicles, announced last November. These second phase guidelines are meant to provide a safety framework for developers of portable and aftermarket electronic devices to use when designing visual-manual user interfaces for their systems. The first phase focused on devices or systems built into the vehicle at the time of manufacture.
OOIDA readily concedes the need to address distracted driving, and supports driver education and legislation, “particularly regarding teen drivers”—but NHTSA’s guidelines aren’t the solution.
“Everyday our members are forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid collisions with motorists who are utilizing some form of technology within their vehicle that impedes safe driving habits,” Spencer says. “OOIDA questions NHTSA’s statutory authority over the proposed Phase 2 Guidelines which are outside NHTSA’s jurisdiction over motor vehicle equipment … NHTSA has taken it upon itself to create its own jurisdiction where none exists.”
OOIDA argues that NHTSA is “ill equipped” to deal with electronic wireless devices, and points to the “lack of expertise and consciousness in NHTSA’s proposed speed limiter mandate” for heavy-duty vehicles. Indeed, NHTSA “has a history” of submitting recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration without “the necessary due diligence and substantive research.”
But, if NHTSA moves forward with the guidelines, OOIDA requests that the agency consider the electronic tools truck drivers use on a regular basis and the negative results of guidelines that would hamper the use of these applications. Examples cited by OOIDA include navigational applications for truck routing, applications that monitor temperature-controlled loads, and applications that advise truck drivers of real time truck parking availability.
OOIDA also points out that many drivers utilize hands-free communications applications which allow them to acquire real-time weather and traffic information, and to have contact with shippers and receivers. “It allows those who ship security sensitive commodities the peace of mind of being able to contact their driver at a moment’s notice if there’s an incident or issue that needs to be addressed immediately,” Spencer writes.
Additionally, more than 200,000 truck drivers have been trained as First Observers by TSA, to phone in suspicious activity that could be related to terrorism.
“In conclusion, OOIDA implores NHTSA to expend their resources and funds in capacities where they have statutory authority, rather than areas where they do not such as smart phones and smart phone applications,” Spencer writes.
Some in trucking think NHTSA’s plan is a “great idea,” however. In his comment, Gerald McCarty identifies himself as a safety manager for a trucking company, and he contends that current laws aimed reducing handheld phone use by motorists “might as well be tossed out the window,” based on his on-the-road observations.
“Very dangerous! This issue should have been taken care of long time ago to jam cell phones while vehicles are in motion,” he writes. “If this goes through you will see the biggest drop in accidents in one year and for the record. Great idea and please get this rolling. Lives depend on it.”