Cars have come a long way since the pull out radios. We can not interact, talk, even tweet from some cars. Well the federal government wants to lay down some rules to ensure people are not tweeting instead of watching the road. Full story after the jump.

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Not long after the feds issued voluntary guidelines last February instructing automakers on how factory-installed infotainment and navigation systems should operate to reduce distracted driving, NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Strickland acknowledged that the nonbinding rules left a “regulatory doughnut hole” in the form of brought-in devices like smartphones. Today, Strickland’s boss, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, announced that his agency wants to close that gap by drafting further guidelines to cover mobile devices and even voice-activated controls in cars.

“I’ve met with every car executive and talked with them about what they can do to help us with technology they’re putting in cars that may become a distraction to drivers,” LaHood said at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “We hope to examine voice commands for hands-free functions too.”

The guidelines advise that tasks required of drivers do not take longer than two seconds, and that vehicles be stopped and shifted to park before drivers can enter navigation commands or use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. A few systems allow entering nav destinations on the fly, while the BMW Apps feature allows reading Facebook and Twitter posts while the car is moving.

“We want to make sure they understand, and that’s why we put out the voluntary guidelines that we did, that the ability to download Facebook, the ability to access information while you’re driving the car is not exactly a safe way to drive,” LaHood said. “There have to be ways for car companies to address these issues.”

But automakes already have. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, told Wired, “The guidelines that NHTSA is getting ready to finalize, the Alliance took the lead a decade ago working with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.” Bergquist adds, “The automakers came together and started sharing their individual research on distracted driving. They spent a lot of time trying to work through what would be distracting and what is generally not, and how long you could look away from the road. We decided it was two seconds. When NHTSA announced that they would be adopting voluntary guidelines a few months ago, I said it’s always good when you get a shout out from the agency that regulates you that you took the lead in developing those.”

Bergquist says her Washington, D.C.-based group, which represents most major automakers on policy issues, welcomes collaboration with NHSTA to further develop guidelines on eliminating distraction caused by onboard electronics. But she adds that the group has “been urging NHTSA to take a holistic approach and develop a single set of guidelines that address all of these devices and how they work in an automobile. Let’s not go device by device, but see how we can integrate them into [vehicle] systems.”

At the Telematics Detroit conference in Novi, Michigan, NHSTA Deputy Administrator Ron Medford told Wired, “We would develop rules that have good data associated with them about what’s allowed in vehicles, and it would be in the form of specifications we can actually test. With nomadic [devices] it’s difficult because those are used for many different applications. But we are also seeing the capability of connecting your smartphone to the vehicle. And then the guidelines would kick in … when you use your smartphone connected to the vehicle and it becomes the controller.”

Bloomberg speculates that LaHood may direct some of his attention on distracted driving toward the wireless industry as well as the automakers. Verizon announced plans last week to purchase Hughes Telematics, which supplies Mercedes-Benz’s mbrace in-vehicle communications system, for $612 million in cash. And at Telematics Detroit, it was clear that other wireless carriers as well as technology giants such as Google and Facebook are eyeing the lucrative in-car technology space.

While LaHood has at times called for a blanket ban on cell phones in vehicles, the Auto Alliance’s spokeswoman points out the distinction between his personal and public policy views. “Even in today’s media briefing, the Secretary said that if it was him he’d say that you’d have to lock your cell phone in the glove box,” Bergquist told Wired. “That’s his view and he’s very open on it. At the same time I hear him saying that’s not going to be effective because the reality is we’re a connected society. And consumers have so many options on what they can bring into the vehicle. I have viewed his work as someone who has the bully pulpit and can really bring awareness to the issue,” she adds. “And he has done that for three years now, and has done a lot at NHTSA to draw attention to it. But he’s also has been collaborative in reaching out to automakers and cell phone providers and other groups to try and drive attention to this as a very important issue.”

NHSTA’s Ron Medford also struck a cooperative tone at Telematics Detroit. “We can and will do both,” he said, referring to allowing technology in vehicles while making sure it doesn’t become a dangerous distraction. “We’re moving towards finalizing the guides for automakers on in vehicle electronic devices that provide the features consumers want without … sacrificing safety by distracting the driver.”

Additionally, NHTSA released what it’s calling its “Blueprint for Distracted Driving” listing a series of bullet points on how it would combat driver distraction behind the wheel. The document includes getting the last “11 hold out states to pass laws banning distracted driving,” along with educating young drivers on the risks involved, continuing public education on the matter and, “Challenge the auto industry to not provide vehicle content that the government considers distracting.”