After several delays, on Dec. 25th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted a proposed revised regulation to the White House that could mandate automakers to equip cars and light trucks with backup cameras. According to Automotive News, the regulation will be part of new rear visibility standards for passenger vehicles sold in the U.S and the rationale for the backup cameras is to prevent children from being injured or killed by drivers that don’t see them behind their cars when traveling in reverse. NHTSA estimates that backup cameras would save about 100 lives a year.
No details on the planned standards have been released yet. (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.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s second annual distracted driving summit begins tomorrow, and the party’s getting started right: with the release of 2009’s distracted driving fatality numbers. 5,474 Americans died as a result of driver distraction last year, according to NHTSA data [PDF here]. 448,000 “traffic injuries” were attributed to the distracted driving “epidemic,” an epithet LaHood has employed since his crusade against driver distraction began last year. Strangely though, distracted driving deaths remained flat as a percentage of overall traffic fatalities (16%) last year.
But, argues LaHood in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed, police often don’t report the role of distraction in traffic incidents, so the actual number could be higher. That’s an argument we’d expect from the guy hosting a database that is infamous for its inaccuracy, but we’re still struggling how a statistically flat phenomenon (in an environment of improving highway safety) qualifies as an “epidemic.” More importantly, we’re not sure that LaHood’s conference will have any more of an impact than lastyears. But hey, at least it’s better than scolding Snooki on Twitter. A cabinet Secretary can only do so much…
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.
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.
The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.
Having spent most of his tenure chiding distracted drivers and hunting down demon-possessed Toyotas, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appears to be over the whole car thing. The policy statement above was just one element of his push to put bicycling and other car alternatives on an equal footing to cars in transportation planning, which he recently announced at the National Bike Summit.
Before Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood even took the stand before the House Energy Committee, the Washington Post [via TheCarConnection] reported that:
NHTSA officials told investigators that the agency doesn’t employ any electrical engineers or software engineers.
Down on the Potomac, zingers like that go over like an ounce of catnip in a phone booth full of rowdy toms. And sure enough, the question came up at LaHood’s testimony. In fact, it came up twice. And it was the closest thing to a real “gotcha” moment in a long day of testimony.
After a big buildup by expert witnesses, and Toyota’s Jim Lentz’s evasion of any evidence that his firm’s cars are afflicted with an untraceable electronic gremlin, the House Energy Committe turned its attention to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. Because LaHood’s department falls under the congress’s oversight (and carries the government’s ultimate responsibility for the safety of American motorists), LaHood might well have been the main focus of the committee’s investigation. And indeed his last-in-line billing appears to make him the event’s headliner. Or at least it would have if his testimony didn’t make the previous several hours of Ahab-ing largely unnecessary, and possibly even highly embarrassing. (Read More…)
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s get-toughquotes during the Toyota recall have generated significant backlash against an administration that is already knee-deep in the automotive industry. The governors of Mississippi, Kentucky, Indiana and Alabama (all of which host Toyota plants) laid into the NHTSA and Obama administration in a letter covered by the Detroit News. The governors argue:
Despite the federal government’s obvious conflict of interest because of its huge financial stake in some of Toyota’s competitors … it has spoken out against Toyota, including statements U.S. government officials have later been forced to retract… Toyota must put the safety of drivers first and foremost. However, they deserve a level and reasonable response from the federal government – one that is not tainted by the federal government’s financial interest in some of Toyota’s competitors
Strangely, the governors of Texas and West Virginia, where Toyotas are also assembled declined to sign onto the letter. Still, the attack isn’t being simply written off has home-state selfishness. One bellwether for the issue is the fact that the Detroit News looked past its own hometown interests and ran an editorial by the Cato Institute’s Daniel Ikensen, amplifying the governors’ critique. And sure enough, Obama decided to take the issue on head-on in an interview yesterday. (Read More…)
What, you thought Ray LaHood’s war on distracted driving would be limited to a lot of hot air, a do-nothing summit and a ban on federal employees text messaging in federal vehicles? Yeah, so did we. Turns out that the position of Transportation Secretary leaves plenty of time for windmill tilting, as the WSJ reports LaHood is back on his old hobbyhorse. The SecTrans is pushing for the federal ban on texting while driving, and he’s back to the old double-nickel strategy: deny federal highway funding to states that refuse to pass local bans on texting while driving. Which is certainly better than some of the more Patriot Act-esque enforcement methods LaHood had been considering. Still, didn’t the mess that was the distracted driving summit convince LaHood that it’s impossible to legislate against stupidity, especially when there’s such a lucrative business in perpetuating said stupidity? Guess not.