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LaHood Opens Second Distracted Driving Summit

New distracted driving regs and employer policies coming. Technology both vilified as a cause and praised as a solution.

by on Sep.21, 2010

It's clear that technology causes the DD problem; there is little data showing that it can solve it. The vehicle is not a mobile device say critics.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood kicked off the 2010 Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, DC today by announcing new anti-distracted driving regulations for drivers transporting hazardous materials, commercial truck and bus drivers, and rail operators.

LaHood said that he is initiating a new rulemaking to prohibit commercial truck drivers from texting while transporting hazardous materials. In addition, LaHood said that two rules proposed at last year’s summit have now become law – rules banning commercial bus and truck drivers from texting on the job, and restricting train operators from using cell phones and other electronic devices while in the driver’s seat.  More than 4,000 people died in heavy truck crashes in 2008, but only 15% of them were in the trucks.

“We are taking action on a number of fronts to address the epidemic of distracted driving in America,” said Secretary LaHood.  “With the help of the experts, policymakers, and safety advocates we’ve assembled here, we are going to do everything we can to put an end to distracted driving and save lives.”

More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior or DD. In 2009, nearly 5,500 people died and half a million were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research, distraction-related fatalities represented 16% of overall traffic fatalities in 2009.


New OnStar Services Launch Monday despite DD

GM's expansion includes social media and voice texting as Distracted Driving remains a major public health problem.

by on Sep.15, 2010

Auto companies remain committed to expanding vehicle electronics and web connectivity.

OnStar is debuting next week new services and technologies for its 6 million subscribers as part of a “realignment” of the company’s long-term strategy.

The GM subsidiary plans to offer what it calls innovations that “significantly increase drivers’ in-car connection,” on the eve of the second annual Distracted Driving summit that is being convened next week in Washington, DC by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

OnStar executives did not respond to queries about its participation in the meetings. There are no specific public data that show to what extent, if any, OnStar users are part of deadly DD.

LaHood has repeatedly criticized the growing use of electronics in automobiles, but is powerless to regulate it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (part of DOT) is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating national regulations concerning distracted driving; so LaHood has been using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well-financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose companies’ devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries.

Simultaneous events held in New York, Austin, San Francisco and Miami yesterday gave OnStar subscribers a first look at new technologies possible through the ninth generation hardware, including in-car social media interactions that are being tested.

“With the extremely high awareness and respect for the OnStar brand, we’ve created a long-term vision that includes new in-vehicle hardware, an all-new IT infrastructure and a host of new partnerships and services that provide the basis for growth,” said OnStar President Chris Preuss.


DOT Pressures Law and Auto Makers over DD

Transportation Secretary LaHood calls a Second Distracted Driving Summit as Congress, industry ignore the deadly issue.

by on Jul.28, 2010

Particularly lethal is the widespread use of cell phones, now a global problem.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is prohibited by the U.S. Congress from promulgating regulations concerning distracted driving, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been using his “bully pulpit” to oppose the well financed auto, electronics and cell phone lobbies whose devices are enabling almost 6,000 deaths each year and more than 500,000 injuries. (See Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic)

Congress is showing no interest, to put it politely, on telling voters to stop using cell phones during an election year when all incumbents face ousting from angry voters.

Auto companies have their own conflicts of financial interest in this area, as they compete with each other to add more electronic devices to equipment lists. (See BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail with Voice Output and DC Showdown over Distracted Driving Lobbyists)

Therefore there is no surprise in this bureau that LaHood has just announced that a second National Distracted Driving Summit will be held on 21 September 2010 in Washington, DC. More than 100 million people each day are now engaging in dangerous distracted driving behavior.


DC Showdown over Distracted Driving Lobbyists

Secretary of Transportation takes on special interests.

by on Jul.07, 2010

"When it comes to safety, this DOT is holding firm," says Ray LaHood.

If you want an example of the unhealthy influence of money in “pay to play” Washington, look no further than the past head of the National Transportation Safety Board.

In a memo obtained by FairWarning and published on its website, Jim Hall, the former NTSB head (and then a hired spokesperson for Ford during the Firestone tire controversy), is being promoted as the lead spokesperson in an effort to stop the growing movement to regulate the devices that cause Distracted Driving.

The fact that such a lobbying proposal exists – it is called Drivers for Responsibility, Innovation and Vehicle Education or DRIVE – is deeply concerning to advocates of getting money out of politics in revolving door Washington where regulators routinely lobby their former agencies. (Click here for the DRIVE proposal) DOT itself is under criticism for hiring former Toyota employees who then allegedly ignored a growing number of unintended acceleration complaints at former employer Toyota.

DD is without question a deadly automotive safety epidemic – causing 5,000 to 6,000 deaths and more than 500,000 injuries annually, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Moreover, Illinois Republican Ray LaHood, the head of the Department of Transportation that NHTSA is part of, is an outspoken critic of the growing use of cell phones and other electronic devices that are the root cause of the problem.

LaHood is pushing hard for regulatory and other solutions at the state level, since NHTSA does not have the statutory authority under its Congressional authorization to regulate DD on a national basis.

Not Distracted on Safety!

In addition, Congress is showing no interest, to put it mildly, on telling voters to stop using cell phones during an election year when all incumbents face ousting from angry voters.

Moreover, the auto companies have their own conflicts of financial interest in this area, as they compete with each other to add more electronic devices to equipment lists. (See BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail With Voice Output)


July 4th is Deadliest Driving Day in United States

A less desirable sort of “independence” is happening on roads.

by on Jun.29, 2010

Is the U.S. distracted by politics from what really works in preventing highway deaths?

As the United States celebrates Independence Day, an average of 148 people die in motor vehicle crashes each year – far above the daily average.

An analysis of Federal fatal crash data shows that July 4, August 13, July 15, and January 1 were the days with most crash deaths during 2004-2008. That compares with 114 deaths that occurred on the average day, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Why do we tolerate so many highway deaths?” asks Adrian Lund, president of the independent Institute.

In Lund’s view, it is not that U.S. society has become unconcerned about motor vehicle crashes. Rather the U.S. emphasizes the wrong aspects of the threat, while ignoring many proven ways to reduce deaths and injuries on the highway.

For example, Lund notes that Congress held extensive public hearings on the Toyota safety defects, even though the risk to millions of Toyota drivers is statistically small. On the other hand, speeding is a factor in one-third of all highway deaths.

Compared with the Toyota controversy, there is no clamor for Congressional action calling for tough enforcement against speeding. There is no victims’ advocacy group urging installation of speed controls on all vehicles that could prevent drivers from exceeding the legal limit. (Try getting these past angry voters – Z)

Lund points out that instead, Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit in 1995. Since then state after state has raised speed limits on many roads, costing thousands of lives. A petition to require controls to cap the top speed of large commercial trucks has languished for three years.

Safety Analysis!

Meanwhile, distracted driving and cell phone use behind the wheel are getting all the attention. With much fanfare, states are enacting bans targeting various aspects of phone use by drivers, especially texting.

Yet, according to Lund, there is little evidence that the laws will work.


BMW to Offer Incoming E-Mail With Voice Output

The use of electronics in autos continues to grow in spite of a distracted driving pandemic that is killing thousands.

by on Jun.24, 2010

Does e-mail belong next to the steering wheel?

BMW says it will be the first automobile manufacturer in the world to have voice-read e-mail messages inside its vehicles.

The latest electronic feature will be introduced starting this fall in Europe and North America on all BMW models with the navigation system.

Owners of a BlackBerry smart phone will be able to access the phone’s e-mail function via the iDrive operating system. A new Bluetooth interface will integrate the BlackBerry into the vehicle. It allows e-mails to be received and displayed on the “Control Display,” and even read aloud by means of an optional voice output feature.

It is just the latest example of the ongoing integration of entertainment, communication and online functions in vehicles as the number of deaths and injuries from DD – distracted driving – increases. In the U.S. alone almost 6,000 people are killed and more than 500,000 injured annually from DD. (See Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic)


The new BMW e-mail access feature ties in directly with the BMW ConnectedDrive office functions introduced at the beginning of this year.These allow not just call and contact lists, but also calendar entries, text messages, tasks and memos to be transferred from compatible smart phones to the vehicle via Bluetooth interface.

The entries can be selected using the Controller of the iDrive operating system and shown on the Control Display. Even a picture file with a contact address on a mobile phone can be shown on the vehicle monitor.


Smart Phones Add to Distracted Driving Epidemic

Ownership increases the desire for more in vehicle connectivity, which will lead to still more needless DD deaths and injuries.

by on Jun.23, 2010

“Death by Cell Phone” is the title of a billboard advertisement from the National Safety Council.

As more vehicle owners trade-in traditional cell phones for “smart phones,” their interest in communication- and connectivity-related features for their vehicle has also increased.

That’s a major – and deeply troubling – finding, in the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Automotive Emerging Technologies Study released today.

The study is designed to measure consumer interest for emerging automotive technologies, both before and after an estimated market price is revealed. The results come as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wrestles with DD – distracted driving – which is responsible for almost 6,000 deaths annually.

The U.S. safety agency also estimates that 515,000 people were injured in police-reported crashes in which at least one form of driver distraction was involved in the accident.  (See Adults Worse than Teens about Cell Distractions)

NHTSA does not have the statutory authority to issue regulations concerning DD. And automakers and electronics companies are making enormous profits from increasing the use of devices that cause distracted driving, without any apparent legal liability. (See Deadly Distracted Driving Expands as Automakers Market More and More Unsafe Devices and also Senate Kicks Distracted Driving Back to the States )

The study finds that among the 51% of vehicle owners who have a smart phone, interest levels for wireless connectivity systems are higher than the industry average, both before and after the price is revealed. Before price is revealed, 77% of smart phone owners indicate interest in wireless connectivity systems for their vehicles, compared with the industry average of 64%. (This industry average is also troubling.)

More than one-half (56%) of vehicle owners with smart phones are interested in mobile routers, compared with an industry average of 46%. In addition, 47% are interested in having an in-dash computer versus a 38% industry average.


“Although several states have imposed bans on drivers using hand-held devices and one-half of states have or are in the process of implementing bans on texting while driving, this legislation has not necessarily put a stop to how vehicle owners are manipulating these devices,” said Amy Jacobs, manager of automotive emerging technologies research at J.D. Power and Associates.


Distracted Driving Ticketing Campaigns Underway

Enforcement Campaigns in Hartford and Syracuse Fight DD.

by on Apr.08, 2010

NHTSA has not taken the simple steps to make cell phone use in vehicles by drivers illegal.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood today announced that the DOT is starting pilot programs in Hartford, Connecticut and Syracuse, New York to test whether increased law enforcement efforts can get distracted drivers to put down their cell phones and focus on the road.

Research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that in 2008, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than a half million people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver nationwide.

Almost 20% of all crashes that same year involved some type of distraction. Yet, the nation’s safety agency has not taken the simple steps to make cell phone use in automobiles by drivers illegal in all 50 states.

Many states have banned texting while driving – 21 of them so far. While some, including Connecticut and New York, have banned hand-held cell phone use.

The pilot enforcement programs, similar to previous drunk driving and safety belt use programs, are the first federally funded efforts in the country to focus on the effects of increased enforcement and public advertising on reducing distracted driving.

Drivers caught texting or talking on a hand-held cell phone will be pulled over and ticketed. The message is simple, “Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other.”

“Law enforcement will be out on the roads in Syracuse, NY, and Hartford, CT, with one simple message, if a driver is caught with a cell phone in one hand, they’ll end up with a ticket in the other,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It’s time for drivers to act responsibly, put their hands on the wheel and focus on the road.”