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LaHood Rejects Blanket Ban of In-Car Electronics

DoT chief still wants to target distracted driving.

by on Dec.22, 2011

Put the cellphone in the glovebox, says LaHood, though he won't call for an outright ban.

Even some of the biggest foes of distracted driving are rejecting the idea of a blanket ban on mobile electronics – notably including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has referred to the rise in distracted driving collisions, injuries and deaths as a “national epidemic.”

LaHood appeared to question the merits of a new proposal by the National Transportation Safety Board that would effectively ban everything from cellphones to, well, just about anything electronic inside the cabin that might be used by the driver.  The NTSB recommendation came after the organization reviewed a series of deadly incidents including one that was triggered by a teen driver texting before running into a truck – and then being hit by two school buses.  Two died and a number of others were injured.

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There are already significant restrictions on the use of handheld phones in states ranging from California to New York, along with municipalities like Detroit.  And the use of texting in a moving vehicle is even more restricted.  But the NTSB would even ban drivers from using hands-free phone systems, which has many experts questioning its enforceability, never mind effectiveness.

Indeed, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety raised a red flag noting its research has not found a clear correlation between accident rates and existing bans on the use of handheld phones.

“The problem is not hands-free” calling, Sec. LaHood said during an interview with the Detroit News.  “This is not the big problem in America.”

The lack of support by the nation’s top transportation safety official likely dooms the NTSB proposal – though the agency’s Chairwoman Debbie Hersman remained firm in an interview on C-SPAN, saying that “While it may not be the popular recommendation, it is the safe recommendation.”

Don’t think LaHood is going soft.  He has been a vocal proponent on the issue of distracted driving which, according to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was responsible for over 3,000 highway deaths in 2010 – one of every 11 fatalities on U.S. roads.

In his interview with the News, LaHood said, “Anybody that wants to join the chorus against distracted driving, welcome aboard.”  In fact, while he might not be ready to call for a full ban on cellphones, he’d like to see drivers respond proactively.

“We need people to take personal responsibility. Put the cellphone in the glove compartment,” said the Transportation Dept. boss.

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