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Transportation Secretary LaHood's Message to Automakers: 'No More [Technological] Distractions'

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On: Thu, Sep 23, 2010 at 4:22PM | By: Chris Weiss

Transportation Secretary LaHood's Message to Automakers: 'No More [Technological] Distractions'

At a distracted driving summit this week, Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood sent out a new edict to automakers: enough of the gadgets, gizmos, and technological wonders that are going to distract drivers. He detailed plans to work with automakers toward creating new regulatory standards for in-vehicle technology. As systems like MyFord and in-vehicle Wi-Fi gain more popularity, it should be interesting to see how the government responds.

Over the past several years, vehicles have been incorporating new types of technology that include integrated hard drives for MP3s, Internet capabilities, and even social networking. Automakers make their way to the Consumer Electronics Show, in addition to the myriad auto shows around the world, to launch and demonstrate their latest electronic marvels.

While these changes reflect a society that is more connected to and dependent upon technology than generations past, they also present big, new implications for road safety. Texting and driving, talking on a cell phone, and other distractions have long been considered a major bane on highways, so what happens when technologies like Internet, Facebook, and Twitter start showing up right on your dashboard?

According to Department numbers released this week, distracted driving accounted for 16 percent of road fatalities in 2009. Though distracted driving fatalities were down by nearly 400 to 5,474 in 2009, distracted driving remains a significant issue on American roads. Further, these numbers could actually be much lower than actual occurances due to underreporting of distractions in accidents.

LaHood said at the summit: "We've seen news stories about carmakers adding technologies in vehicles that let drivers update Facebook, surf the Web, or do any number of other things instead of driving safely. Features that pull drivers' hands, eyes and attention away from the road are distractions. Period. So I'm going to meet with and work with the auto companies to develop new safety guidelines for technology in vehicles. Together, let's put safety before entertainment."

LaHood also expressed a hope that automakers would join the fight against distracted driving and pour some money into anti-texting and cell phone campaigns.

A spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry group that represents all three major American auto companies and a number of foreign companies, said that automakers are already looking out for the safety of drivers, adding new technologies as a way of making activities that drivers are already doing in the car safer and easier to access.

I've got to say, it's nice to see the Department taking a lead on this. I've been rather surprised and slightly terrified by some of the technologies that are casually being integrated into cars. I really don't see how turning a car into a rolling personal computer is going to have any effect but decreasing driver attention span and making roads more dangerous for those that use such technologies and everyone around them. Some form of regulation of what is and isn't acceptable for in-vehicle technology is definitely in order, and I hope that the Department follows through.

I find the AAM's argument to be a bit of a cop-out: people are doing it, so let's give in and give them a safer (but still distracting) way? Is that how we solve driver safety problems? Distraction is distraction and complicated technological systems like MyFord and OnStar apps seem like they'll only increase it.

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