Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on March 28th, 2011 at 11:14 am
Distracted driving is arguably the most important traffic safety issue facing America today. Amazingly, while we have many advocates and other smart people working to address the issue, the auto industry seems to be promoting it by turning cars into rolling computers.
A few things came across my desk this morning that show how these two trends — getting tough on distracted driving on one hand, while promoting it on the other — continue to be at odds with each other.
US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood released the latest piece in his ongoing series, Faces of Distracted Driving. As a father and as someone who likes to ride bikes on occasion, this one really struck a nerve with me. It features the story of 19-year old Eric Okerblom who was killed in 2009 after being struck by a man operating a truck at 60 mph while simultaneously texting on his phone…
As we’ve covered distracted driving over the years, people have often suggested that smart phones that would automatically turn off while a car is in operation would be a great solution to the problem. This morning I was happy to read a post on The Infrastructurist that reviewed several such apps. Turns out that Sprint introduced an app (aptly) called “Drive First” that’s set to come out later this year.
While I’m happy to see these apps and LaHood’s continued focus on this issue, my good feelings were hampered by news from the auto industry’s latest arms race. Here’s a snip from a disturbing Yahoo News story:
“Analysts say consumers are warming to the notion of more connectivity in their cars, with “apps” for information and entertainment just as they have with their smartphones or tablet computers.
“Initially, putting Internet access in the car sounds like a distraction and frivolous but as time passes it will become a part of our lives and we will feel uncomfortable not having access,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecoms analyst.
“I think this is going to grow into a vibrant sector.””
Seems to me LaHood’s efforts and trends in the auto industry are heading in directly opposite directions. As America’s traffic safety watchdog, LaHood is in a great position to use his commitment to road safety as leverage on both telecoms and the auto industry.
President Obama is currently contemplating a mega-merger between AT&T and T-Mobile. While I’d rather not see that merger happen at all, perhaps LaHood can use the potential deal as an opportunity for leverage; as in, if they merge, the companies must agree to major funding of distracted driving prevention efforts. On a similar note, perhaps LaHood and Obama could use their bailout of the auto industry as leverage to reign in the cars-as-rolling-smartphones trend.
With powerful lobbies, getting anything out of telecoms and the auto industry wouldn’t be easy; but distracted driving is quickly becoming an “epidemic” (in LaHood’s own words), and left to their own devices, I’m afraid corporations might get distracted by profits.