Driver distraction rules threaten Tesla-style touchscreens

Touchscreen, gadget and multimedia rich dashboards like the vast touchscreen in Tesla's new Model X could end up largely non-functional on the move, if the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has its way. New guidelines around digital distractions have been proposed by the NHTSA this week, applicable to "communications, entertainment, information gathering and navigation devices or functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle", with future phases potentially encompassing smartphone and tablet use.

Some of the proposed guidelines read like common sense, such as asking manufacturers to reduce the complexity of functions and limit them to demanding just one hand, so that your other can remain on the wheel. However it's rules like limiting unnecessary visual information in the driver's field of view, and cutting off-road glances to sub-2sec in length, that could have the biggest impact on some of the more complex dash tech we've seen car manufacturers flirting with.

Multimedia-rich systems should be disabled unless the transmission is in park or they can't be accessed or seen by the driver when the car is in motion, the NHTSA says. That includes text messaging and any internet or social media browsing, punching an address into a GPS navigation system, or even manually dialing a 10-digit phone number. In fact, anything above 30 characters of non-driving related text couldn't be shown unless the driver had parked their car.

The distraction guidelines are all voluntary, the NHTSA points out, though manufacturers are likely to feel pressure to adopt them above and beyond the car industry's existing distraction guidelines, that have been in place since 2002. Future phases will probably extend the rules to cover smartphones, aftermarket sat-nav units, tablets and other electronic gadgets, and eventually cover voice-control systems.