Find or Sell any Parts for Your Vehicle in USA

U.S. unveils blueprint to tackle driver distraction

Thu, 07 Jun 2012

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Thursday the agency isn't looking at new regulations to address distracted driving, but rather is calling on automakers to step up voluntary efforts to combat risks with new technologies and education.

LaHood, who's made distracted driving a top automotive safety priority of the Obama administration, said he's met with the CEOs of numerous automakers and feels confident "they're committed to safety."

He even praised Subaru of America for a TV ad that highlighted the dangers of driver distraction. The commercial featured a father talking to his teenage daughter about the risks of using a cell phone while on the road.

"We're not considering a rule," LaHood said. "We're looking at things that have worked. We think good laws work. We think good enforcement works."

He also urged Congress to enact stricter laws on distracted driving and possibly a nationwide ban on cell phone use, although when pressed he didn't offer specifics, saying only it was his personal preference.

"I don't have a bill to hand to Congress," he added.

LaHood's comments came as his department unveiled a new "blueprint" to end distracted driving and announced $2.4 million in federal funding for California and Delaware to help them step up enforcement.

The funding builds upon the department's previous efforts to reduce driver distraction. Three years ago, LaHood launched a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. He's even gone as far to label it an "epidemic" and says that deaths attributed to driver distraction are "100 percent" preventable.

His efforts have prompted 39 states and the District of Columbia to ban texting while driving and brought awareness to a danger that some auto safety experts say is becoming more acute as in-car and portable technologies advance.

In 2010, distracted driving deaths totaled 3,092, but NHTSA believes the total could be higher because drivers are often unwilling to admit to the behavior and many crashes lack witnesses.

The proliferation of communications technology behind the wheel has often left regulators struggling to keep up.

In December, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman, whose board operates independently, called for a ban on all phone use while driving, even with hands-free devices.

"We have got to dispel the myth of multitasking," Hersman said later in February. "We are still learning what the human brain can handle. What is the price of our desire to be mobile and connected at the same time?"

In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed the agency's first-ever set of voluntary guidelines on distracted driving.

The guidelines cover vehicle equipment only--not handheld phones--and recommend that automakers disable certain apps, such as Facebook, Twitter and Internet browsers, unless a car is pulled over.

Voice operation of those features isn't addressed but will be later. For now, NHTSA is still studying hands-free technology and is expected to release an analysis later this year.

"The data is not very strong on hands-free," said Ron Medford, the deputy NHTSA director. He said the agency is now focusing on what it knows is a danger and that's texting or talking on handheld devices while driving.

Major automakers, however, have pushed back, arguing that the feds' guidelines are too restrictive and need to give more leeway to certain features, such as images and moving maps.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 automakers, would like NHTSA to better align its guidelines with the alliance's own recommendations developed in 2002-03.

Responding to the Alliance's comments, LaHood said automakers don't dispute that driver distraction is a serious safety issue and have taken initiatives to address it. He also stressed that the guidelines are voluntary, not mandatory.

"We think voluntary is the better way to go now,' LaHood said. "We want them to step up and take responsibility for saving lives."

By Christina Rogers- Automotive News