It’s the kind of thing that could only happen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or maybe it’s the kind of thing that could happen anywhere but which is most likely to happen in the ABQ: a bus driver rams a line of cars because he’s distracted. One of the victims of the crash sues the city, claiming that the driver was OMG DISTRACTED BY HIS CELLPHONE THE MOST EVIL DEVICE OF ALL TIME, THE TOUCHING OF WHICH WHILE OPERATING A MOTOR VEHICLE ALWAYS LEADS TO FATALITIES.
Well, distracted driving was the cause of this crash. But the distraction had nothing to do with texting.
Citing New York’s leadership in banning hand-held cell phone use in cars, NTSB Vice Chairman Christopher Hart urged the Empire State to become the first to ban all use of personal electronic devices while driving. Though careful to call it a state issue, Hart did hint that state compliance with forthcoming NTSB recommendations could be tied to federal highway funds (he has separately called for a national ban).
And indeed, New York’s legislators seemed to see the issue of distraction as an issue for federal action (but then, why not make the feds pay for it?). At the same time, everyone understands that the problem is near-ubiquitous and any full ban on personal device use in cars would be near-impossible to enforce (short of Assemblyman McDonough’s suggestion that automakers equip cars with cell-phone signal blockers)… which raises huge questions about federal-level action. (Read More…)
NHTSA Administrator David Strickland warned automakers last week that he had no interest in making it easier to use systems like Twitter and Facebook, indicating that integration of these systems could face future regulation. But while Strickland was playing Bad Cop, his boss (and the traditional bad cop in these routines) Ray LaHood was busy playing Good Cop, telling the AP [via The WaPo] that
We are data-based. Our credibility comes from having good data. If we have good data, then we can make a case. Is messing with your GPS a cognitive distraction? Is changing the channel on the radio a cognitive distraction? We’re looking at that now.
You can see the entire war plan for the DOT’s assault on distraction in PDF here, but don’t rush. You have plenty of time. Voluntary guidelines (yes, voluntary) for visual-manual interfaces won’t come out until Q3 of this year, portable devices in Q3 2013 and voice-activated systems in Q1 2014. Meanwhile, the government won’t even have the data on which to regulate hands-free systems until Q1 2012. So, even though most research shows little change in distraction between a hands-free and handheld device, the industry should be able to sell a grip of hands-free and voice-activated systems before the government is even sure of how distracting they are.