Distracted driving is fast becoming the bête noir du jour for hysterical “safety-first” types. Following the standard blueprint for these kinds of panics, the New York Times got pulses racing first with a series of articles aimed at making a general problem (most drivers suck) seem like a specific, solvable “crisis.” Then Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called for a “distracted driving summit,” and the campaign to get America to stop texting and start paying attention to the damn road before you kill us all was well underway. But these things never really take off until a major corporation smells a chance to make money, and signs on. Which Ford has apparently now done, by officially endorsing HR 3535 at its “The Ford Story” blog. But why?
“At Ford, we think driver distraction is a critically important issue,” explains Sue Cischke, Ford’s Group VP for Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. But this is no battle of principle.
Drivers experience many different types of distractions on a daily basis. Drivers are going to have conversations, read maps and directions, and listen to music while they drive. The most complete and most recent research shows that activity that draws drivers’ eyes away from the road for an extended period while driving, such as text messaging, substantially increases the risk of accidents…. Ford believes hands-free, voice-activated technology substantially reduces that risk by allowing drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
Technologies like . . . Ford’s Sync, for example. Does this explain why . . .
Dr. Jeffrey Runge, then the head of the highway safety agency, said he grudgingly decided not to publish the draft letter [to Transportation Secretary Norman Minetta “warning states that hands-free laws might not solve” the cell phone distracted driving problem] because of larger political considerations.