The U.S. Transportation Department asked automakers to disable devices that allow drivers access to social networks and other electronic activities while a car is moving.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in the non-binding guidelines issued today, also called for disabling manual texting, Internet browsing, 10-digit phone dialing and the ability to enter addresses into a built-in navigation system for drivers unless the car is in park.
The department said it's considering future guidelines to address handheld electronics brought into cars and minimizing distractions from voice-activated systems. Today's guidelines are the culmination of LaHood's campaign to bring attention to distracted driving caused by use of mobile phones and other electronic devices behind the wheel.
"DOT is on the right path," said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. "We particularly like the guideline for disabling devices that text and surf the Internet, etc." Harsha reviewed the rules before they were announced.
The guidelines, for which the agency will seek comment before making final, don't apply to electronic warning systems such as lane-departure or collision alerts.
"Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly habit on America's roadways," LaHood said in an e-mailed statement. "These guidelines are a major step forward in identifying real solutions to tackle the issue of distracted driving for drivers of all ages."
In December, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board called mobile-phone use in cars a public-health epidemic on the scale of smoking or drunk driving and recommended that all U.S. states ban phone use by drivers, even with handsfree devices. The safety board can't make or enforce rules.
The Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates automakers. The U.S. government doesn't have the authority that states do to make or enforce laws governing drivers' use of electronics.
LaHood, who has said he will step down from his post even if President Barack Obama wins a second term, has said he supports bans on all use of handheld devices while driving.