My New Hero: Mike JacksonBy Bill Visnic May 31, 2011
Many in the auto business know Mike Jackson. The Chairman and CEO of AutoNation Inc. and before that, president and CEO at Mercedes-Benz USA, Jackson is the antithesis of the auto-industry empty suit, long ago earning a reputation as cut-to-the-chase exec who knows how to do it right. I suspect my general politics may not be entirely aligned with Jackson's, but at last week's inaugural Edmunds.com Safety Conference in Washington, D.C., he nonetheless became my new idol with a simple presentation that outlined the steps the nation should be taking if we really want safer highways. Almost none would be popular.
Jackson (left) summarized what needs to be done to eradicate the chaos that now governs how we interact on the road, a chaos the safety establishment seems to believe is better addressed with misguided restrictions and a larger payload of onboard electronic safety systems than with reinforcing the quaint notion of personal responsibility. Some of the conference attendees didnt agree with all of Jacksons tenets, but most admitted theyve heard worse ideas.
The main points of Jacksons outline to improve road safety: 1) Make text-messaging illegal and since thats unlikely to make much difference, install technology to block text messages in moving vehicles; 2) Raise the gasoline tax to fund safety-enhancing and congestion-reducing traffic-management technology, including intelligent road signals and total automation of toll collection; 3) Get serious about lane discipline by restricting trucks to right-hand lanes and passing only in the left lane.
Jackson is adamant about the danger of texting. Hes heard all the analogies to bygone days when the same arguments were made about the distractions of radios in vehicles. This is different, he insists of texting. Experts from all disciples attending and presenting at the Edmunds.com safety conference almost universally agree. Its the youngest drivers (engaging in texting) who have the least sensitivity as to what can go wrong in life, Jackson said.
But his stress on the need to enforce lane restrictions aligns with my own alarm over an obviously expanding epidemic of who-cares-what-lane-Im-in driving. Some of this obnoxious and dangerous plague is directly attributable to the new, more-intensive distractions offered by cell-phoning and texting, but the problem runs deeper: Im convinced the foundation of most road rage lies with lane blocking. The situation isnt improved by an oblivious law-enforcement establishment that prefers the ease of writing a rinky-dink speeding ticket to attacking a genuinely dangerous driving behavior.
No texting. Drive in the proper lane. Mike Jacksons zero-bull view of the world says this stuff is easy to implement if we really want safer roads. For now, it looks like we dont.
Mike, have you considered running for President?