LaHood Sticks by Guns on Cellphone BanBy Bill Visnic October 28, 2010
U.S.Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood raised eyebrows and took some heat a couple of weeks ago when he proposed a total ban on cellphone use in moving vehicles. Despite criticism that included many calling the tough-talking LaHood unrealistic, over-reaching - or just plain wacky - he stuck with his position Tuesday in an interview with National Public Radio.
"There is no call, no text message too important it can't wait until you get to your destination," insisted LaHood. "My cause is to get people to put their cellphone in the glove compartment."
LaHood's position reverberated hard in the auto industry, which is expending large amounts of research and development dollars on designing and improving driver-vehicle interfaces to enable more interaction with increasingly popluar - some say indispensible - personal electronic devices such as cellphones and iPods. But LaHood said he is talking with automakers to see if there is common ground on a safety issue LaHood frequently calls "epidemic."
"I want them (automakers) to understand they can be part of the solution," LaHood said in the NPR interview. He praised Subaru of America Inc. for a current television commercial "dissuading" drivers from using their phones while driving.
A caller to the radio program might have stumped LaHood when asking why, if cellphoning while driving is so unsafe, can police officers be so frequently seen driving while talking on a cellphone - and whether law-enforcement personnel would be banned by the same law they would be expected to enforce.
LaHood's justification - which left a long moment of palpable silence on the program - was that law-enforcement personnel are trained drivers and thus should be exempted from a law against phoning while driving. "I believe they are trained to be careful when doing it," he concluded.
Alhough his call for a nationwide law to prohibit use of cellphones (and text-messaging, of course) while driving also has even supporters concerned about the realities of enforcement, particularly with hands-free technology now so widely available from automakers and the aftermarket, LaHood likened the effort to earlier proposals to crack down on drunk driving and to improve seatbelt utilization rates.
LaHood said strong seatbelt laws and strident enforcement has led to a nationwide seatbelt utilization rate of 85 percent, while drunk driving has become much more of a social stigma and is backed by ever-stronger punishments.
"Eighty-five percent of people buckle up today because of good laws and good enforcement," he said, adding that the situation could be similar for enforcing a cell-phone ban.
A final caller claimed to be a commercial-truck driver phoning in to the program while driving.
"That's even worse," LaHood snapped, refusing to take the call.