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NHTSA Calls for Standardized Dashboard Symbols

September 25, 2003

According to a Reuters report, the United States government has proposed that all displays and control panel indicators inside new motor vehicles adhere to an internationally recognized set of symbols.Reuters said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) considered the change several years ago but retreated because of little public or industry support, but regulators now argue that standardizing warning lights and other display signals should be required because cars are more sophisticated than ever."We tentatively conclude that requiring vehicle controls and displays to be consistently identified by means of an internationally recognized set of graphics in all vehicles would promote safety," the highway safety agency said in a regulatory filing, according to Reuters.The safety agency wants to include most vehicles in the new rule and also require that steering wheel and dashboard controls be located within easy reach of the driver while that person is wearing a seat belt, the report added.Some of these features include windshield wipers and switches that activate air conditioning and heating systems, Reuters said.According to the news agency, the Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group, worried that drivers would not understand all international symbols, especially for brakes. Most brake warnings on U.S. vehicles illuminate a light that spells out "brake" while the international symbol is a brake drum and shoes, Reuters noted."We recognize that some vehicle functions are easily represented by a symbol, such as the horn, while others may be more difficult to convey graphically. Nonetheless, the consistent and widespread use of even the less intuitive symbols generates understanding of their meanings," the traffic safety agency said, according to Reuters.The news agency’s report said regulators have proposed phasing in a new brake warning light over five years that would include the symbol and the word "brake."
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