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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)