Automakers Need to Download the Mood of Feds' Latest Distracted-Driving Summit

By Bill Visnic September 20, 2010

distracted driving symbol (put it down campaign).jpg

Automakers increasingly tout advances in onboard connectivity and infotainment systems as competitive advantages, but they'll be wise to take note of the atmosphere surrounding the issue of distracted driving at the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C. tomorrow.

Concern is beginning to accelerate regarding the amount of outside information appropriate to bring into the driving environment and with the federal government directing escalating interest - as well as escalating budget - at the controversy, the angle of attack could change from mostly dialogue-driven to regulatory.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has emerged as an advocate for curbing what some have described as a national epidemic of distracted driving as new devices and innovations enable a widening bandwidth of outside information to enter the vehicle. LaHood initiated the federal government's action last fall for the first distracted-driving summit and the Obama Administration bought in by quickly banning text messaging for all federal employees when driving government-owned vehicles. The DOT also launched a website,, as a conduit for public information.

Although the ultimate goal of the initiative - and the methods used to get there - remains to be established, it seems clear from a recent DOT press release about the summit that the immediate desire is to convince drivers to at least stop handling personal electronic devices while driving.

"Working together, we can put an end to the thousands of needless deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving each year," said LaHood. "By getting the best minds together, I believe we can figure out how to get people to put down their phones and pay attention to the road."

Most automakers already have mature systems in place to enable hands-free phoning and manipulation of media players, with Ford Motor Co.'s "Sync" system being perhaps the best-branded solution. And although it's quickly becoming established through various legislation that text messaging while driving should be banned entirely, there remains considerable argument about whether hands-free advances genuinely make phoning or other electronic interactivity safe enough to occur while driving.

Tomorrow's second Distracted Driving Summit will be webcast at the DOT's distracted-driving website and includes an opening address by LaHood, an overview of anti-distracted-driving initiatives that have occurred since last year's conference and a panel discussion about new technologies and proposals for new legislation.


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