By David Strayer
Tom and Ray sat down to ask Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood several questions about driver distraction.
I think it is great news that DOT is focusing on the epidemic of driver distraction. Many thousands of lives are lost each year because drivers do not pay attention to the road.
The Secretary described several steps to address problems associated with text messaging while driving. However, very little has been done regarding talking on a phone while driving (which is a more common activity and thought to claim more lives than texting). There is also very clear evidence that hands-held cell phone bans do not make the roads any safer, yet very little has been done by DOT to disseminate this knowledge to state legislatures (see the white paper by the National Safety Council on this topic).
More troubling was the lack of specifics regarding the auto industry and the headlong rush to put consumer electronics and wireless devices into the automobile. Secretary LaHood could have done better on these answers.
Some form of regulation is needed that involves a demonstration that a device does not cause harm before it is used while driving. We make sure that drugs cause no harm before they are marketed. We should do the same for consumer electronics in the automobile.
I'd like to see an independent group (that is, one that does not stands to profit from the sale and use of a piece of equipment) evaluate products and provide an assessment of the distracting potential of a device. For starters, any device that has a distracting potential that equals or exceeds the crash risk for driving drunk should be prohibited.
Cooperation with the auto industry is important. It would be great if that were sufficient, but the pursuit of profit can be blinding.
In my view the DOT should take a more proactive role in combating driver distraction caused by cell phones and other electronic devices. This probably means doing more than just bringing it up with auto manufacturers when they meet.