Ask The Best And Brightest: What Should Automakers Do About Distracted Driving?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

Government’s solution to distracted driving: hold summits and tweet at Jersey Shore cast members. The OEM solution: run ads legitimizing unfocused driving and then sell an electronic solution (in the example above, a $2,950 “Driver Assistance Package” for the $49,400 Mercedes E350). Or “feature-disabling feature.” What Ray LaHood calls an “epidemic,” and “ menace to society,” the automakers call big business. If LaHood is as serious about distraction as he says, should he not be calling out the trend towards increased in-car communication? And if he is exaggerating the problem, shouldn’t the automakers be more actively defending their decision to market distracting in-car technology?

If LaHood keeps his rhetorical War On Distraction alive long enough, the current OEM approach will inevitably come under the microscope. Given that private concerns generally prefer self-regulation to government regulation, what should the automakers do to keep the government off its back? Ignore LaHood and hope his crusade blows over? Fight him, commission studies, and definitively prove the safety of in-car communication? Or change course, risking a huge disadvantage but possibly carving out a new branding opportunity? Now that the least safe part of the modern car is the human doing the driving, everything has become a lot more complicated…

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  • Steven Lance Steven Lance on Sep 21, 2010

    Perhaps use the traffic theory in some towns in Holland. Something like this. The key is responsibility. If somebody hits someone while texting, the penalties need to be stiff, and life altering. I do think that the hand's fee and voice dialing systems in cars are safer than using manual dial cell a wide margin. Car makers can tout that to the government.

  • Timothy Barrett Timothy Barrett on Sep 21, 2010

    What should auto makers do? Quit putting those dash mounted screens in their cars. When I got my license back in '66 I remember that it said in the govt. issued 'Drivers Handbook' that it was illegal to have a video screen anywhere in the car that could be seen by the driver. Made perfect sense then. What happened? The other week I was driving through town, going about the speed limit, in the left lane. I passed some guy in a small car who was going a lot slower. As I passed I glanced at the driver and he had his gaze fixed on his dash mounted map gizmo. A couple of hundred yards later I stopped for a red light. A few seconds later, this guy drove right past me in the curb lane and straight through the red. Fortunately, nobody else was in the intersection. They should put some kind of motion sensor in those things so you can't use them unless the car is stopped. Allowing those devices to be used the way they are is, in my opinion, sheer lunacy!!

    • M 1 M 1 on Sep 21, 2010

      Actually, the OEM ones already *are* disabled when the vehicle is in motion.

  • JMII JMII on Sep 21, 2010

    Does Merc have a system that detects if your falling asleep at the wheel? How does that work? I assume it monitors your eyes somehow. If so put that in the dash of all vehicles and if your not looking AHEAD sound an alarm. Wheter its the radio, the nav screen, the phone, the A/C settings, if you don't LOOK where you going your going to hit things - like people, trees, lamp posts, other cars, cats, dogs, etc. Ask anyone thats been in an accident and the first thing they say is "I never saw X coming" the reason, they were distracted and looking someplace else. At 60 mph how much ground do you cover in a second? That's all it takes.

    • See 1 previous
    • M 1 M 1 on Sep 21, 2010

      I believe it was Toyota that developed a system for detecting when the driver was nodding off. The trouble with your idea -- an alarm that goes off if you're not looking ahead -- is all the perfectly valid edge cases where it just needs to shut the f&ck up. A perfect example is the now-ubiquitous seatbelt warning. Guess what? If I'm in my 4x4 puttering down the beach at 6 MPH, it really isn't all that important if I'm belted in. If I have jumped into the truck to very slowly back it up to a trailer, I also don't need the All-Knowing All-Monitoring Vehicle Control Computer to remind me that I am not firmly strapped into my legally-compliant crash safety equipment. And yet, virtually every modern vehicle nags and nags and nags anyway, because of all the complete douchebags from sea to shining sea who simply can't take care of themselves without state-mandated / attorney-approved cradle-to-grave safety protocols.

  • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Sep 22, 2010

    Do what they do about spotlight hunting dear - just confiscate the vehicle... Ought to get a few people's attention especially after the local cheerleader captain gets her sweet 16 Mustang convertible confiscated.