By on January 31, 2011

Though I’m generally too much of a libertarian to be a huge fan of the work of the neo-prohibitionists at Mothers Against Drunk Driving, this in-car breathalyzing technology is definitely the kind of active-safety mandate I can get behind. After all, the social debate over the the effects of and responsibility for drunk driving has taken place, and despite heavy penalties against it, drunk driving still kills too many people. Unfortunately, since this technology won’t be usable for another ten years, we’re all going to have to live with the risk of drunk drivers for quite a bit longer… and by the time this hits the streets, you had better believe that distracted driving will be a far more relevant risk factor. After all, if the current state of debate over distracted driving were compared to the drunk driving debate, the automakers would still be arguing that in-car kegerators help keep the danger out of in-car drinking… and the government would be working to set voluntary safety standards for those kegerators.

The moral of the story: by the time we recognize societal safety problems as real problems, we are already halfway to solving them… and the final 50 percent of the problem can take years afterwords to solve.

By on January 31, 2011

Poor Ray LaHood. Having endured considerable embarrassment over his department’s handling of the Toyota Unintended Acceleration recall, all the Secretary of Transportation seems to want to do is talk about the “epidemic” of distracted driving. But, as TTAC has continually reminded, changing driver behaviors is a notoriously tricky task. The government’s choice: mandate intrusive measures like in-car cell phone blocking or continual surveillance of all vehicles, or go for voluntary “cures” that don’t even begin to address the underlying problem of increased driver distraction. And despite repeatedly referring to distracted driving in epidemiological terms, LaHood seems to prefer the “it’s actually your problem” approach, telling automakers [via AN [sub]]that NHTSA will

issue voluntary standards to handle the dangers of the connected car… in the third quarter of 2011.

Which means that nothing meaningful will ever actually be done about distracted driving. After all, the automakers contend that drivers will use cell phones in cars “no matter what,” and that in-car connectivity systems simply make the inevitable sin less dangerous. Of course, the evidence doesn’t seem to back up that position, as an IIHS survey shows no significant difference in safety after a hands-free cell phone ban. But, because the industry is under intense pressure to deliver profits from new connectivity systems, the logic that more systems will make drivers more likely to unsafely use phones in their cars is simply being ignored. And though the voluntary approach is better than intrusive government-mandated workarounds, is still nowhere close to living up to LaHood’s overblown rhetoric.

(Read More…)

By on January 18, 2011

Turns out, Twitter is good for something after all.

By on October 8, 2010

OK, so the basic functionality of the Car & Driver/Chrysler “Txt U L8r” app is fine: receive a text message while you’re driving, and it will read it aloud and automatically reply that you are driving and cannot respond immediately. But the industry’s fundamental ambivalence towards distracted driving quickly rears its head in the form of a “paid upgrade” that allows voice-activated replies by the driver: distracted driving is not a problem to be solved, but a money-making opportunity to be exploited. As a result, the message that C&D and Chrysler send with this new app is “Texting while driving is bad, bad, bad… unless you shell out for our perfectly safe app.” Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is bullshit.
(Read More…)

By on September 16, 2010

I know the readers of Autoblog understand the dangers of distracted driving because you’ve been sounding the alarm on this deadly epidemic for years, long before I became Secretary of Transportation. Most Autoblog readers know by now that real drivers just drive.

And, because I appreciate the heavy lifting Autoblog and its readers has been doing on this issue, I’m making my appeal to America’s automotive fans right here…

…Like you, I love driving. I have a 1998 Buick Regal in Washington, D.C., as well as a Ford Escape back home in Peoria. And, also like you, when I drive, I want to do so on roads that are not full of people who simply don’t pay attention to their driving.

But, the sad reality is that people who drive distracted are causing harm to the rest of us.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood takes to Autoblog to recruit support for his forthcoming National Summit on Distracted Driving (Tuesday, September 21 in Washington DC. BYOB), the second such event of his tenure. And what better way to catch the attention of automotive enthusiasts than by professing your passion for the dynamic delights of a ’98 Regal? Meanwhile, enthusiasts who are taken in by LaHood’s crusade should take note: the last Distracted Driving Summit ended with a ban on in-car texting by federal employees, a measure TTAC described as

a bit like fighting an epidemic (to continue Secretary LaHood’s metaphor) by telling federal employees to take an aspirin.

By on September 16, 2010

Having told the world that Onstar will allow users to update their Facebook profiles and listen to Facebook news feeds from their cars, bosses at the GM subsidiary reveal that they haven’t actually determined if these features are safe yet. Onstar Marketing boss Sam Mancuso explains the situation to AdAge

Today people are texting while they are driving. It’s not legal and it’s a very bad idea; 47% of people who are texting say that they have done so in their vehicle while driving. To do a normal text message takes 4.6 seconds, and at the speed of 55 miles an hour, someone can travel the length of a football field. We know that people want to use technology, but we are working on using it in ways that they don’t have to be distracted. Our goal is to minimize that distraction to virtually zero.

The litmus test we use is “Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your mind on the drive.” If we find that the texting service or Facebook audio update capability causes people to be distracted we’re not going to do it. We’ll vet those things out internally…We’d be very proud to talk to you, others in the media or family and friends and say we tested it, developed it and it’s not safe.

Does anyone actually believe that this will be the outcome, now that GM and Onstar have begun hyping these features?
(Read More…)

By on September 9, 2010

The never-ending tension between the desire to give consumers more choices of in-car gizmos and the need to halt the advance of distracted driving took another confused twist this week, as Onstar announced that it is testing new features that could allow drivers to listen to text messages and update their Facebook status from behind the wheel. According to the DetN, the technology would read incoming text messages or a Facebook news feed to the driver, and could even allow the driver to update their own Facebook status verbally. Needless to say, GM and Onstar are hyping the updates as ways to keep up with Ford’s SYNC on the entertainment front, and because the features are all hands-free, they’re safe… right?
(Read More…)

By on July 16, 2010

Hmm… quite the contretemps yesterday with regards to Web-surfing while driving. Honestly, if I’m endangering any of you by looking at my phone while driving on a freeway so empty that I can’t see a single set of headlights behind me or taillamps ahead, I apologize. And I don’t even own a Martin Backpacker. In a perfect world we’d all be driving in completely silent cars, alone, well-rested and emotionally stable. In my real world, I cover 40,000-plus miles a year on the road and track. Most of those miles are affected by some sort of distraction, whether it’s a phone conversation, personal stress, or trying to sing Douala phonetically along with Richard Bona records. I try to be honest with TTAC readers about what I do behind the wheel. Most of the people in this business are writing whatever they think will ingratiate themselves with the readers or — more commonly — the advertisers.

As it so happens, the one above-parking-speed automobile accident I’ve had since 1988 was directly related to distracted driving. My brother and I were rolling my VW Fox down Cranston Drive in Dublin, Ohio, about eighteen years ago. I was doing about 30 mph. There was a pizza guy in front of me, driving a Tercel. He made a left out of my way. Right then I saw the finest-looking teenaged girl to ever put on a pair of tiny shorts and jog down Cranston Drive. While I watched the shorts, the pizza guy changed his mind and literally backed up into the road. I saw it out of the corner of my eye but was still carrying about 10mph when I hit him. The cop cited us both; me for assured clear distance, him for reckless op. Worst of all, the girl kept running and I never had a chance to share my personal testimony with her.
(Read More…)

By on July 8, 2010

We’ve devoted considerable bandwidth here at TTAC to the inevitable conflict between Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s campaign against distracted driving and the ever-increasing array of distractions offered by popular in-car electronic systems like Ford’s SYNC. While automakers are forever striving to offer more and more connectivity, politicians are waking to the realization that these systems prevent drivers from focusing on their driving. And now, it appears, Ford is finally getting on the same page as the pols. The DetNews reports that SYNC-equipped 2011 Fords will come with a “do not disturb” feature that

locks out capabilities “not relevant to the task of driving while the vehicle is in motion.” Ford also is barring any action that requires typing on a keypad and limiting lists of navigation and phone choices to fewer entries — like phone contacts or recent phone calls.

With this pre-emptive strike, Ford is trying to protect a system it says helps sell cars from regulation as a dangerous in-car distraction. Will a “do not disturb” button really help prevent accidents? Ford had better hope so, and it had better hope the data comes in looking mighty conclusive. Otherwise, systems like SYNC could find themselves on the wrong side of Washington DC in the near future.

By on June 9, 2010

On the heels of a Ben Gurion University study showing that drivers under the influence of marijuana are less dangerous than drunk drivers, comes yet another study indicating that driving stoned might not be quite as bad as some think. Published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, the Hartford Hospital/University of Iowa study titled “Sex differences in the effects of marijuana on simulated driving performance,” concludes that:

Under the influence of marijuana, participants decreased their speed and failed to show expected practice effects during a distracted drive. No differences were found during the baseline driving segment or collision avoidance scenarios. No differences attributable to sex were observed. This study enhances the current literature by identifying distracted driving and the integration of prior experience as particularly problematic under the influence of marijuana.

Irie!
(Read More…)

By on May 22, 2010

Why does it drive you nuts when other people around you are yakking away on their cell phones? It’s not the noise that distracts you. It’s hearing only one half on the conversation that is driving you mad. That according to a study by scientists at Cornell University, to be published in the journal Psychological Science. It could seriously impair your driving … (Read More…)

By on May 12, 2010


The Wall Street Journal [sub] reports that GM and Google are discussing new ways to connect the internet giant’s Android mobile phone operating system with GM’s Onstar system. OnStar’s president Chris Preuss has hinted that “big news” is coming next week, spurring speculation about the features that a partnership with Google could yield for Onstar. If such a plan is in the works, GM’s timing is quite good. Ford had previously enjoyed an exclusive license to Microsoft’s technology which underpins its Sync system, but that agreement recently expired, prompting deals between Microsoft and automakers like Fiat and-Hyundai-Kia. By becoming the first US-market OEM to partner with Google, GM could enjoy an advantage in Detroit’s burgeoning technology wars… at least until distracted driving becomes a capital crime.

By on April 27, 2010

… you’ll get covered in red food coloring? Or is this ad by Mudra Group for the Bangalore Traffic Police [from Copyranter via Daily Dish] trying to say something else? Meanwhile, when do we get an Oprah Winfrey version of this spot?

By on April 9, 2010

Thus far, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s war on distracted driving has been largely a rhetorical hobbyhorse, giving the good Secretary a crowd-pleasing speech topic no matter where he finds himself. After calling the situation “an epidemic,” LaHood held a summit at which it was agreed that distracted driving is bad, especially when it causes deaths. Federal employees were subsequently barred from texting while driving government-owned vehicles during work hours. And that was just about it. Apparently chastened by his big build-up and lack of pay-off on this issue, LaHood has kept himself busy with the Toyota debacle of late, leaving distracted driving largely alone since last summer’s summit. Until he remembered that there was one crucial tool in his bureaucratic bag of tricks that he hadn’t yet used: the photo op.

(Read More…)

By on March 29, 2010


Most people can’t concentrate on the road while talking on the phone, as Jack E. Robinson, a Boston businessman and former candidate for governor of
Our Fair State discovered when he became the butt of jokes after crashing his car while participating in a radio call-in show. But one in forty people can do both at once, according to a new study from the University of Utah.
(Read More…)

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