The US government wants to lock out apps to stop phone use while driving

Traffic deaths have spiked in recent years

After years of declines, traffic deaths on US roads rose 7.2 percent last year and another 10.4 percent in the first six months of 2016. The cause, regulators believe, is people distracted by their phones when driving.

So now the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed voluntary guidelines that ask smartphone manufacturers to try to figure out a way to reduce those distractions by blocking most apps while the phone is being used by someone driving a car.

Under the guidelines, drivers would still be able to make calls and use navigation systems but not enter text, browse the web, or view photos or video not related to driving. Entertainment systems should also be made easier to pair with smartphones.

Driving Mode

All this requires smartphone makers to develop a technology that determines if someone is driving a car, which is no easy task. In the meantime, the NHTSA wants phone makers to create a "driving mode" that could be voluntarily activated by the user when they get into the car.

NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement: "With driver distraction one of the factors behind the rise of traffic fatalities, we are committed to working with the industry to ensure that mobile devices are designed to keep drivers' eyes where they belong—on the road."

The new guidelines will be subject to a public consultation for 60 days before a decision is made about whether to put them into effect. Even if approved, however, they will remain voluntary - phone makers won't be forced to obey them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.