By on September 20, 2010

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 argue that voice-controlled in-car Facebook updates pose no more of a distraction than, say, radios. Or roll out a “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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41 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: What Should Automakers Do About Distracted Driving?...”

  • avatar

    I find myself yelling at my TV just about every time I see this particular ad. I understand it is a series of dramatizations, but I just keep yelling, “If you were paying attention you wouldn’t need your car to intervene on your behalf.”

  • avatar

    I think the same thing. I know most teenagers my age will probably fork out the extra cash for those nannies because they are too busy texting on their cellphone rather than paying attention to the road. I honestly think these electronic nannies would be not be even needed if people, especially my generation, had to drive cars with manual transmissions because you cant text etc while shifting and working a clutch. All the new accident avoidance nannies do are promote distracted driving because it gives the driver a false sense of security that the car will avoid any danger.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think requiring a manual would change anything.  On trips to my parents, where I’d most likely get distracted, I have a 100+ mile stretch of road where I don’t shift out of 6th gear.  At that point, it is just like an automatic.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m afraid this isn’t the case. In the bad old days before legislation (or I was sensible enough to legislate for myself not recognising the idiocy of doing this) I mastered the art of tapping out decent SMS’ while bowling along.

  • avatar

    Sell cars with one seat.
    Because the most distracting thing in almost all cars is that other person or people (or, God help us, children) in it with the driver.
    (This reminds me of an old 20/20 scare piece about how dangerous it was to dial a phone while driving… which was demonstrated by the “reporter” holding the phone out at 90 degrees to his body and looking sideways while slowly dialing.
    Sure, nobody in the world ever dialed a phone like that, but hey, it built hysteria, right?)
    (And on the last part of the post… there will always be a “least safe part” of driving, unless we somehow manage perfect equality. Worrying about the least safe part is not as important as figuring out if any parts are both worryingly unsafe and amenable to improvement.
    Given how people already drive stupidly and break every law we have about paying attention, not texting while driving, etc., I hold little hope.)
    You can’t make people not be idiots, or pay attention to the road.
    (Much like modern hands-free requirements… is the idea that I’m going to be less distracted by hurriedly picking up a Bluetooth headset, turning it on, and jamming it in my ear before the caller hangs up, than by picking up the phone and holding it steady for a minute or two?
    Neither’s all that safe, but the requirement To Be Seen To Be Doing Something that legislators always feel themselves to be under causes more harm than good.)

  • avatar

    What SHOULD they do?  Nothing, it’s the squishy organic bit that’s the problem.
    What they will do.  Invent nutty nanny techs that warn of impending doom (oh noes I wandered out of my lane) and interfere in all sorts of ways while upcharging for it in a manner that would make a stripper blush.  I’m looking at you Infiniti.

  • avatar

    Or option 4, we could do nothing more than allow Darwinism run its course.

  • avatar

    Answer: Expect the guvment to order more electronic nannies, a la CHMSL, airbags, tire pressure monitors, ESC, back-up cameras, steering and braking intervention, etc.
    Only a suicidal politician would suggest better drivers ed!
    My favorite safety device was the reverse beeper that beeped INSIDE the last Celica….

  • avatar

    The OEM solution: run ads legitimizing unfocused driving and then sell an electronic solution

    And this is worth doing, just as seatbelts, airbags and crash survivability standards were in the past.  Safety systems like this are part of the reason why driving is safer than ever.  Not only is the cellphone genie out of the bottle, but the kind of people who drive while texting would have been distracted by something in earlier eras.

    Personally, if a simple radar system prevents the driver in the next lane from smearing me and my passengers against the guardrail I’m all for it.

    Plus economies of scale will eventually ensure such a system will cost next to nothing to add, and since it’ll likely be all in software, it won’t weigh much, either.

  • avatar

    Make driving more fun and involving, I doubt many Miata drivers text while driving.

    • 0 avatar

      That works for you and me but the majority of people regard driving as drudgery and want to be involved as little as they can get away with.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 from a Miata driver.
      I should also add that I don’t use bluetooth or handsfree in the Miata either, it’s too loud to be usable :)  (even with the top up, not exactly conducive to using a bt  microphone)

  • avatar

    I agree with psarhjinian above.
    If any manufacturer wants to make its cars safer and can, then do it.
    As long as somebody is willing to pay for the extras, let’s have them.
    The blind spot monitoring on my Mazda6 is awesome. No matter how many years and miles, I still make mistakes.
    The stability control on the MKS is awesome as well.
    Now if they could just make a deer spotting windshield, that would be the ticket.
    My daughter hit 3 in one fall!

    But what is trouble me is the nanny state runs amuck. Laws, more laws…and then more laws.
    But nobody gets punished for breaking laws.

    OK, seat belts saved lives.
    Air bags helped save even more.
    But how in the hell can we allow people hurt in accidents, even those caused by themselves, to sue an auto manufacturer for damages when they weren’t wearing their seatbelts!?

    When will we stop the amnesty, the bail-outs and the forgiveness of sins?

    Gods truth…I knew a guy, a very good friend, whose son caused an accident pulling out into the path of a 55 MPH truck…and he and his sister in the seat next to him were almost killed.
    They recover, less some inner parts.
    But guess what, His sister sued his insurance and she won a distasteful amount of money.
    And neither one was wearing their seat belt!

    This, folks, makes me violently angry and weary of any more government.
    If the law states you have to wear a seatbelt, you can’t sue if you don’t!
    If you cause an accident while texting, yelling at kids, searching for a radio station, calling…even putting on make-up, you are at fault.
    NOT the auto manufacturer.

    IF we let failure succeed, if we bail-out failed businesses and over borrowed people, if we grant amnesty for illegal activity…what the hell do we need more laws for?

    • 0 avatar

      “But nobody gets punished for breaking laws.” That’s not really true. Many people get punished for various traffic violations. The problem is that there are more laws than can be enforced consistently. The ones that are enforced tend to be those where it is easiest to make an arrest and get a conviction. A particularly egregious example is the camera enforcement racket.
      “If the law states you have to wear a seatbelt, you can’t sue if you don’t!” I wear seat belts for my own benefit, not anyone else’s. If you cause an accident that injures me and my injuries are more severe because I failed to wear a seat belt, I don’t believe that should limit or reduce your liability. To say otherwise is to claim that I have an obligation to you to minimize the the cost to you of your own negligence. This can also apply to an auto mechanic in case of an incompetent repair or to a manufacturer in case of a structural defect.
      “If you cause an accident while texting, yelling at kids, searching for a radio station, calling…even putting on make-up, you are at fault.” I agree as long as the rest of the sentence depends on the opening phrase “if you cause an accident”. In that case, the distractions should be considered aggravating factors rather than causes. Suppose you proceed through a green light while talking on the phone and T-bone someone who ran the red. In my opinion, the fault is entirely his, not yours.

    • 0 avatar


      You missed the point…or maybe just don’t get it.
      I don’t like to play word games, so why are you?
      Of course somebody get punished, monkeys don’t. So what.
      Most some bodies don’t. That is the point.

      Your wearing a seatbelt when another person hits you still should count against you IF the seatbelt would have avoided your injury. This is silly.
      It was the law that you had to be wearing it.
      Did you understand the accident I was referring to and who caused what/sued who???

      And perhaps you didn’t understand my violent freedom of choice position.  Do what you want, just be prepared to pay for the scars caused by your accident, even if you have to wear them the rest of your life.

      That’s not how we do it today.  Because so many inept drivers are allowed behind the wheels of cars, all laws are being dumbed down to their ineptitude.
      People spill hot coffee and crash…no more hot coffee, hell…no more drive through!!!

      In today’s I’m OK, You’re OK society, nobody is at fault.
      What the hell is no-fault insurance?
      Non-covered insurance?
      We actually have an uninsured clause of our auto insurance.
      So I guess we should have a texting clause, a driving distracted clause.
      They seem to fit with the uninsured feature.

      Rather than these idiots paying for their damage, we simply blow it off and fork over the money so we can move on and stay out of the justice system’s black hole.

    • 0 avatar

      If you cause an accident that injures me and my injuries are more severe because I failed to wear a seat belt, I don’t believe that should limit or reduce your liability. To say otherwise is to claim that I have an obligation to you to minimize the the cost to you of your own negligence.

      No, you have an obligation not to be negligent of your own safety. If you negligently endanger yourself by failing to wear a seatbelt, other parties cannot be held liable for the full extent of your injuries. You assume the risk of greater injury by not wearing the seatbelt.

    • 0 avatar

      “If the law states you have to wear a seatbelt, you can’t sue if you don’t!”

      And if tort reform efforts were crafted around this sort of logic instead of trying to simply limit the amount of damage awards, maybe the reforms would get somewhere. Injured in an accident while not wearing a seatbelt (or helmet for cycles)? No pain and suffering or lost income damage awards.

    • 0 avatar


      I’m not sure what you mean by word games. This is a debate and words are the tools we use to delineate our positions. Otherwise, I suspect we agree half way. Two accidents in my part of the world might serve as illustrations.

      Two teenagers were screwing around in a Fiat X1/9, ran off the road and flipped the car. The passenger was turned into a quadraplegic. The passenger’s family sued Fiat (tells you how long ago this was) claiming a defect in the cars handling.

      A woman was driving with her kindergarten age grandson in the front seat of their Chrysler minvan. They t-boned a driver who ran a red light. When minivan’s airbag deployed it turned the boy into a quadraplegic. His parents sued Chrysler claiming faulty design of the air bag.

      Both families lost their suits against the auto manufacturers. I agree with those decisions. What the parents really wanted was help with their children’s astronomical medical expenses.

      Where you and I seem to differ is whether the quadraplegics (and their families) should have recourse against the drivers. I’m sure the quadraplegic teenager was a willing participant in the joy ride. The grandmother should have belted the kid into the back seat. In my opinion, this should not reduce the compensation owed them by the negligent drivers. Those drivers should spend the rest of their lives working their butts off while living in poverty because every extra penny is confiscated to help pay their victims’ medical expenses. I wish the courts would garnishee their Social Security checks when they get old!

      I agree that the driving environment is being dumbed down to accommodate the poorest drivers both through laws and technology. The trend disgusts me. If you ruin your life due to reckless or incompetent driving, that should be your misfortune. The rest of us have no duty to protect you from yourself. If you ruin someone else’s life, you should be fully responsible for making him or her whole or as close to it as possible. That your victim could have done more to protect himself or herself from you should not absolve you of responsibility.

  • avatar
    Almost Jake

    They shouldn’t do a damn thing. Let Darwin’s theory pan out. It simply thins the herd.

  • avatar

    Do we even know what % of accidents are caused by distraction?
    Wouldn’t we still be better off focusing on getting the drunks off the road?


    I see now the article below. 16% apparently.

    • 0 avatar

      British Columbia just put a new law into the hands of the police. Blow a .08? Well, you’ll get your license back in 90 days, after you’ve paid $3,750.00 in fines and remedial costs. If that doesn’t stop drunk driving, nothing will. (chronics excepted, of course)

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Clearly Tim has never been through a state-side DUI. My brother had one in 2007. The total cost was around $17,500 (first timer) and he actually got off with a reduction to reckless driving. Contrary to clueless-clucking-hen opinion, DUI’s are not a cakewalk in the US.

  • avatar

    Its about the driver mind setting, if he thinks that he is or people around him is safe doing it while driving, then that’s a problem, its not about making driving fun, but its responsible driving.

  • avatar
    John R

    When I first heard the case about that guy out in Cali how got a police GPS tracker unknowingly placed on his truck (which was upheld by the CA supreme court) I started looking into GPS disruptors (they’re not expensive BTW, like $30 for a really good one).

    This got me to thinking why not a portable cell phone signal disruptor? Your kid taking the car out? Put it somewhere on the car. Turn it on. Frustrated driver, yes, but a live and un-distracted one.

  • avatar

    John R. is right.  I used to work with a former e-tech with the USAF and he said his team would probably need about one day to come up with an effective cell phone jammer. This was years ago, before txting became such an issue.
    I would use it at least 10x per day.

  • avatar

    You can get a cell phone jammer from from outside the US. As a broadcast device, they are illegal, but apparently can be effective.

  • avatar
    N Number


  • avatar

    Easy, run a PSA ad campaign demonizing distracted drivers. Show bloody wrecks, orphaned kids, bereaved loved ones and definitely don’t forget to toss in some cripples. Make passengers and road neighbors feel empowered and disgusted and they will provide the social correction needed. Basically run a “Truth” campaign on the subject, and fund it through voluntary donations from car makers and some NHTSA, health and human services and DOT money. These actually won’t cost much to make, as a lot of the work that went into those anti-smoking campaign commercials was done pro-bono by some pretty heavy hitters in the ad business. You might even be able to lean on the networks to get a deal on air time, just let them throw a “us too” blurb on the end of the spot.
    The problem the other tack is; how could you legislate a solution? Introduce draconian fines? I don’t believe that’s actually going to change much besides the cost of getting a ticket, the use of phones etc… in the car is a habit for most, and threat of additional fines doesn’t change that (sorry law & order idealouges). I guess we could fund the use of night vision goggles and set up the police to aggressively ticket on that basis, but there are very few good locations or opportunities to do this, and much higher policing priorities. NYS troopers have already experimented with that tactic, but I don’t know if they still use it.

  • avatar

    How about a feature that detects cell/pda/whatever use and flashes “Caution!  Idiot not looking” signs on the outside of the vehicle?


  • avatar

    I have a crazy idea.  Build an engaging car with few if any e-nannies, few electronics and big ol’ knobs.  (The RSX-S dash was one of the last great examples (  It should be have a manual transmission and, if not hydraulic steering and cable throttle and brakes, at least have it provide useful, honest feedback.  Price it within a reasonable range and see how many people buy it.  Of course, current safety regulations and market demands will prevent that.
    Then again, as brilliant and driver-focused as the RSX’s dash is, so many of their owners have crashed them that insurance companies apparently decided to rate them nearly out of the market.  So, maybe not.

  • avatar

    Probably the only effective thing to do is to amend traffic law to allow law enforcement to check phone records without a warrant of any driver/vehicle involved in an accident. Any driver/vehicle found to be communicating (other than non-driver vehicle communications like nav systems) within 5 seconds of the accident is subject to serious penalty ($ and/or jail) regardless of fault unless the vehicle was fully stopped and in Park. Then widely publicize the law. While this doesn’t address all distractions, it addresses the worst, and it only addresses cases where an accident has actually occured. After a few well publicized verdicts the deterrent effect should kick in with sentient drivers.

  • avatar

    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 phones…by a wide margin.  Car makers can tout that to the government.

  • avatar

    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!!

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      “At 60 mph how much ground do you cover in a second?”

      Exactly 88 feet.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      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 4×4 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.

  • avatar

    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.

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