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Ford Owned Volvo Tows Line on Cell Phone Use

The Swedish company renowned for auto safety ignores a key aspect in the cell phone use while driving debate.

by on Sep.29, 2009

There's good reason the National Safety Councile wants a total ban on driving and cell phone use.

The National Safety Council wants a total ban on driving and any kind of cell phone use.

Volvo Cars of North America, LLC, (VCNA) is placing full-page ads tomorrow in issues of USA Today and The Washington Post that call for distracted driving legislation.

Publicly taking a position on the need for legislation is apparently a first for Volvo, and the company chose to do so as the Department of Transportation’s “Distracted Driving Summit” in Washington, D.C., which opens tomorrow.

It is indicative of the high stakes and high profits that potentially are on the line if the government bans the use of electronic devices in cars, including phones, moving maps, Blackberries and video players, among others.

The advertisements apparently attempt to change the subject from the dangers of any kind of cell phone use while driving to a position that hand-free cell phone use while driving is safe.

Peer reviewed scientific studies say that it is the cognitive engagement while using either a hands-free or a hand-held cell phone that is the dangerous distraction.

The issue is not the type of phone a driver uses, rather it is the mental distraction caused by the conversation itself. That’s the reason earlier this year the National Safety Council urged a total ban on using cell phones while driving after conducting further studies that confirmed previous research on just how dangerous cell phones are.

NSC said cell phone use while driving contributes to 6% of crashes, or 636,000 wrecks, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries, and 2,600 deaths each year. NSC estimates the annual financial toll of cell phone-related crashes at $43 billion.

Simply put cell phone use is as dangerous as drunken driving.

Volvo and Ford Motor Company, along with virtually all other automakers are attempting to preserve hands-free cell phone use, which they enable with optional or standard equipment telematic devices that allow an increasing array of electronics to be used during driving.

We Concentrate on Driving!

We Concentrate on Driving!

Such scientific studies are likely to be contested tomorrow at the Distracted Driving Summit as powerful and wealthy vested interests attempt to protect the increasing sale of electronic devices that are leading to an “epidemic of distracted during,” in the words of Republican Ray LaHood, who heads the Department of Transportation. As DOT head, LaHood also has charge of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is supposed to protect people from unsafe vehicles, driving conditions and practices.

NHTSA is accused of covering up research that showed all cell phone use is dangerous during previous administrations that were philosophically opposed to any regulation, whether it be financial markets, air or water pollution or auto safety.

LaHoodcalled for the the summit this summer after years of inaction by NHTSA, amid these charges of cover-ups, when a Freedom of Information  Act request by the Center for Auto Safety revealed internal NHTSA memos on the dangers of driving with cell phones, and several gruesome accidents  – one in his hometown – that clearly resulted from distracted driving.

The summit is a two-day meeting between senior transportation officials, elected officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives and academics to discuss how to combat distracted driving.

The ads discuss how Volvo, which is not a Summit participant, has long been focused on eliminating collisions in which distracted driving is a factor. Volvo has done this, in part, by building cars that stop themselves and warn fatigued drivers when they waiver from their lane.

Volvo was unable to respond to multiple requests during the past month by the for studies supporting a position that hands-free cell phones while driving are safe.

“With the proliferation of cell phone use and text messaging while behind the wheel, distracted driving is on the rise and is a leading cause of traffic accidents,” said Doug Speck, VCNA president and CEO. Speck is a Ford Motor employee. Ford Motor Company is heavily invested in “Sync,” a Microsoft technology that enables the use of electronic devices that can distract drivers.

“Reasonable laws that help focus a driver’s attention on the road will help reduce collisions, just as laws to enforce seat belt use have helped save lives. By holding this summit, the DOT is demonstrating its commitment to resolve an ever-growing safety issue, “according to Speck.

Perhaps, but safety advocates are privately skeptical about the potential outcome of the summit. Cell phone use is too popular, and auto and electronics manufacturers such as Microsoft and Blackberry too politically connected for NHTSA to ban cell phone while driving entirely.

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2 Responses to “Ford Owned Volvo Tows Line on Cell Phone Use”

  1. Dan Johnston says:

    The author’s shallow assertion that Volvo supports distracted driving legislation in order to sell accessories is, in a word, ludicrous. It’s also insulting to the readers of The Detroit Bureau.

    Volvo supports distracted driving legislation because driver distractions are a contributing factor in most collisions. We don’t like collisions — even though our cars are built in the anticipation that a collision might very well occur! We’re about safety. Protecting people if they get in a collision and, now more than ever, developing technologies that help avoid collisions altogether. To suggest otherwise is offensive and an affront to common sense.

    Yes, people should not do certain things in or with cars like text messaging while driving, speeding or playing the radio at disturbing-the-peace levels. While we do offer hands-free technology, cars that go faster than the speed limit and sound systems that can be turned up very high, we must defer to the human operator and his/her ability to make proper choices. Today’s reality is that people will use cell phones — but we believe that hands-free solutions are the lesser of two evils, and if drivers use such devices in moderation, well, that’s a positive step toward more attentive drivers.

    Read our news release and advertisement again. Or, better yet, post them for your readers. Our intent is crystal clear: Fewer distracted drivers on the roads will mean fewer collisions. If we can help make more people aware of the dangers of distracted driving, then maybe fewer people will do things that distract them from being an attentive driver.

    Dan Johnston
    Volvo Cars of North America

    • Ken Zino says:

      Let’s go to the core issue and for the moment ignore your ad hominem attack.

      My assertion, based on peer-reviewed studies, is that cell phone use of any type increases risk while driving by as much as four or five times.

      It is not clear from your objection to this assertion exactly what Volvo’s position is. Are you saying some cell phone use is acceptable? If so how much? And what of the existing population of cars out there that do not have Volvo’s latest accident avoidance technology?
      This is the policy issue confronting NHTSA, and the safety agency will likely go after the biggest hazards first, devices that take one’s eyes off the road. But even here the implications of emerging research could have dire consequences for automakers. Maybe cars shouldn’t have navigation or video screens?

      The full copy of the ads when this piece was published was not available. We will provide viewers with the copy when we have access to it.

      As to whether our viewers think our coverage on this and related safety matters is insulting, well, they can review our coverage and make up their own minds.

      We recently published Volvo’s stated goal of zero fatalities in a Volvo car, an admirable desire. And we have tremendous respect for Volvo’s ongoing safety work.

      However, we also are concerned about the safety of people who are not in Volvos or who might be the victims of a distracted driving incident, including pedestrians.

      As always, we welcome informed debate.