The U.S. Transportation secretary scolding the auto industry today for not doing enough to prevent distracted driving.
Speaking as his second annual “Distracted Driving Summit”, Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood noted that automakers were adding in-vehicle technology that allows drivers to update their Facebook page, surf the Internet “or do any number of other things instead of driving safely.”
“Features that pull drivers’ hands, eyes and attention away from the road are distractions,” said LaHood. He told reporters the technology could create a “cognitive distraction” and he would meet with auto companies to develop new safety guidelines for technology in vehicles.
Automakers have said voice-activated systems are safer for drivers than trying to manipulate applications on their mobile devices.
“We want to make sure that customer has got his hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, so they have full concentration,” said Micky Bly, who’s the GM executive in charge of in-vehicle technology.
General Motors Co. recently announced plans to give its OnStar safety system better voice recognition so drivers could verbally connect with the Internet. Ford Motor Co. has marketed its in-car entertainment and communication service, known as Sync.
GM’s Bly told WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert that the goal of this new technology is to allow drivers to more safely communicate while behind the wheel.
“We make sure that we are not introducing anything that becomes a distraction to the driver and adds a safety concern for them,” said Bly.
General Motors, at this point, is testing a system that would allow customer’s to post Facebook updates, and send text messages using voice controls. Bly saying GM will work with the government to develop new safety guidelines.
“We want a collaborative relationship with NHTSA and the Department of Transportation,” said Bly. “It’s a win-win for us.”
The Obama administration says distracted driving will only end after there’s a network of tough laws, enforcement by police and personal responsibility.
“Every time someone takes their focus off the road – even if it’s just for a moment – they put their lives and the lives of others in danger,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
LaHood suggested the technology industry could place warning labels – “the way we put warning labels on cigarettes” – on the boxes of mobile phones urging consumers not to use the devices while driving.
LaHood said nearly 1,600 U.S. companies and organizations have adopted policies related to distracted driving, covering about 10.5 million workers. Another 550 organizations, covering an additional 1.5 million workers, have pledged to create anti-distracted driving policies for their employees within the next year.
Thirty states and the District of Columbia prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel; eight states have passed laws barring drivers from using handheld cell phones. Michigan passed the texting ban this year, and several individual communities have bans on driving while talking on handheld cell phones.
The transportation department says nearly 5,500 people were killed last year in distracted driving crashes.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.