Transportation Secretary Calls for Federal Ban on Phones in Vehicles
Ray LaHood says distracted driving is a 'national epidemic,' wants tougher laws.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted-driving awareness and prevention a priority. And while he’s been a vocal critic of automakers offering technology that could pull eyes away from the road and hands from the wheel -- and a strong supporter of state laws that ban mobile-phone use in vehicles -- for the first time last week LaHood proposed a blanket federal ban on phone use in vehicles.
At a distracted-driving summit in San Antonio, LaHood called for tough new federal legislation that would put an end to what he called a "national epidemic." He told the group that police should have "the opportunity to write tickets when people are foolishly thinking they can drive safely or use a cell phone and text and drive," according to Reuters.
At the same time, LaHood and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration signaled that the agency is willing to work with automakers, rather than ban onboard or brought-aboard technology. Many think a federal ban is unnecessary and unworkable.
Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association, told Reuters that laws banning specific actions, such as talking on a phone or texting, are redundant since they’re already covered by existing distracted-driving laws. "It shouldn't matter if the driver is distracted by a conversation with another vehicle passenger, tuning the radio, eating a snack or talking on a cell phone," Biller said in a statement. "Existing laws cover all those distractions and more." Biller says it would be much better for the feds to focus funds on campaigns that discourage all forms of distracted driving.
Thirty-eight states already have laws related to the use of electronic devices while driving, but LaHood says more needs to be done by government to address distracted driving. He compared it to how drunk driving was viewed 20 or 30 years ago, and says more public awareness and stricter laws are required to both stigmatize and criminalize distracted driving.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is not a part of the Transportation Department and has no regulatory or enforcement powers, has also recommended that states ban the use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices while driving. The NTSB went a step further and advocated banning the use of even hands-free devices while driving. LaHood later said he didn't support the NTSB's position.
And when NHTSA issued the federal government’s first-ever guidelines “to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk for in-vehicle electronic devices,” LaHood signaled a willingness to work with automakers. “The choice between ensuring drivers are safe and including cutting-edge features in cars is false,” he said at the time. “We can and we must do both.”
The results of a just-released teen-led study on texting while driving should add fuel to the fire for both sides of the debate. Part of a project called Generation tXt, the study was presented yesterday at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Boston.
Designed by Oklahoma high-school students, with faculty from the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine serving as advisers, the study shows that texting while driving is unsafe regardless of where the phone is positioned. Thirty students -- more half of whom had been behind the wheel less than a year -- used simulators to drive under three conditions: without a cell phone; texting with the phone hidden so they were forced to look down; and texting with the phone in a position of their choice. The simulators recorded unintentional lane shifts, speeding, crashes or near crashes and other driving infractions.
The teens consistently drove worse when texting, regardless of whether the phone was hidden or in a convenient position. They drifted out of lanes more often -- 13 times more with the phone in a position of their choice, 17 times more with the phone hidden and less than three times when not using cell phone. They also had more near crashes while texting.
Those who want to ban cell phones from cars could cite this research to show that using a phone is unsafe at any speed, for any driver. But it could also be used to prove that technology – with the phone completely tucked away and accessed by voice commands, for example – is the answer, not the problem. Especially since most people are not going to simply turn their phone off when they get into the car.
In most states, you don't need new laws. You just need to enforce the ones that exist which focus on "failure to pay full time and attention" to driving. Those laws have been on the books in some states (like Virginia) for 30 years.
Yeah, but politicians think they don't get brownie points from voters for enforcing existing laws, only for creating a mountain of new ones they can attach their names to....that often look a lot like the old ones. Their behavior seems to be driven by ego and self-preservation, not common sense.
But almost nobody gets pulled over for those any longer. The problem isn't the lack of laws on the books, it's the complete lack of the police to enforce the traffic safety laws that already exist.
Banning it is impossible. Lawmakers should insist that carmakers design a car that disable the functionability of any cell phone when inside the vehicle.
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at email@example.com.