Carmakers Get U.S. Callout on Mobile Use

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Uncle Sam wants you... to stop using your cell phone in a moving car.

The U.S. government has tried to warn you about the dangers of calling and texting and checking your messages while you're driving. But for the most part, people still do it, and they get into accidents as a result.

So now the U.S. Department of Transports has taken the fight to the next level. They have issued a "recommendation" with "voluntary guidelines", to the auto industry that it's time to consider electronic blocking of connected smartphones, tablets and computers in moving vehicles. They call it "Guidelines to Minimize In-Vehicle Distractions". This could ultimately pertain to all auto manufactures as well as connected devices from Apple ( AAPL), Amazon ( AMZN), Google ( GOOG) and others.

For the DOT and NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) it means they're suggesting auto manufacturers consider including ways to keep drivers from Web browsing, emailing, text messaging, video calling, watching video entertainment (such as Netflix ( NFLX) and YouTube) and basically anything else that will keep drivers' eyes away from actually driving unless the car is stopped and in "Park".

The technology wouldn't be all that complicated to figure out and install. We'd probably see warnings implemented in stages. Maybe a warning light or buzzer when a smartphone connection was initiated. Then, possibly an automatic two-way radio blocking system built-in to a car's entertainment system.

It's only a voluntary recommendation for manufacturers, at this point. But, think it could never happen? Think again. Remember the debate over whether or not seat belts helped save lives? It took government regulators decades to go from no restraints, to simple belts, to "automatic" belts, to the present day mechanical/electrical system that keeps you from starting the engine before passengers up front have fastened their belts.

I know the entertainment system in my two-year old car is capable of playing back both audio and video from an Apple iOS device. The video quality was horrible (I tried, once, it while the car was parked). I find the entertainment system distracting enough just trying to switch radio stations unless I use the system's voice recognition controls. Even then, I usually have to wait for a red traffic signal to change channels. Between potholes, pedestrians and other distracted drivers in-car cell phone use is just another danger.

Cell phone blocking can and probably will happen. And, you can be sure that car buyers will have to pay for the technology involved.

At the moment, these are just recommendations and, if actually taken to heart, would take years, and a number of production cycles to be implemented. At least, the recommendations don't include the act of making hands-free calls or text messages even though those have recently come under fire for interfering with a driver's attention span.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.

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