By on September 1, 2011

According to government statistics, “grooming” while driving is a major hazard, only slightly less dangerous than using a cell phone, eating and drinking, and talking to passengers. This video drives the point home that  grooming, talking to passengers, and even the slightest hint of eating can be deadly. In this case, the man was lucky and walked. Next time – who knows.

By on August 31, 2011

[Skip ahead to 2:08 (or don’t)]

It’s the stuff of a Ray LaHood nightmare. Automotive News [sub]’s lede comes screaming out of the blackness:

BERLIN — Ford Motor Co. has adapted its Sync in-car connectivity system to cope with high speeds on German autobahns.

But you can’t wake up, Mr Secretary of Transportation. For this is no dream…

(Read More…)

By on August 12, 2011

The Crusade against distracted driving is taking its toll – on the telcos: “State laws that mandate use of hands-free devices when talking on a mobile phone behind the wheel may have cut handheld device usage in half over the past year,” reports Edmunds.

A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) talks about a bloodbath caused by cell phones: (Read More…)

By on July 12, 2011

Transportation Secretary and Supreme Allied Commander in the War On Distraction Ray LaHood is quite chuffed about initial pilot program results for his latest offensive against in-car cell phone use, and he’s taking to the airwaves to declare victory. The programs, modeled on the “Click It Or Ticket” and “Over The Limit, Under Arrest” initiatives combined an advertising blitz and waves of enforcement to crack down on the behavior, but more importantly to send the message that distracted driving is as serious a problem as drunk driving or not wearing a seatbelt. Thanks to the relative success of these earlier programs, the DOT has a strong template for its pilot anti-distracted driving campaign, the enforcement components of which took place in April, July, and October 2010 and March-April 2011. But was the “Phone In One Hand, Ticket In The Other” program actually as successful as LaHood claims?
(Read More…)

By on June 23, 2011

Edmunds recent Auto Safety Conference featured a number of high-profile speakers including NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl, IIHS President Adrian Lund, Toyota Under Fire author Tim Ogden, Rep John Dingell and more. I haven’t had time to watch all of the presentations from the conference, but from what I’ve seen, the conference seems to have been one of the most forward-thinking, diverse and lively explorations of auto safety in recent memory. The video above, featuring Virginia Tech professor Tom Dingus, offers enough provocative insights to fuel a lengthy discussion on distracted driving, but I encourage you to go check out the rest of the speakers here, and if you really want to get stuck in, you can download their presentations here.

By on June 13, 2011

More people feel that the task of driving belongs to the driver, and do you really want to sort of hand over your safety to a machine? It’s possible the technology might one day be widely deployed. I just don’t think we’re anywhere close to that right now

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland came away from his first run-in with Google’s autonomous cars in a less-than-entirely optimistic mood [via the DetN]. You might think that Strickland, who is a central figure in Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s “War on Distraction,” would appreciate a driver that has no need for Twitter, Facebook or the other increasingly-common in-car distractions. Instead, he took his position to its remarkably solid core: that individuals need to think more, not less, about their responsibilities as drivers. It’s actually a fantastic message, especially given that he wasn’t kidding about the “technology isn’t ready” part, telling the DetN

There’s near misses. It’s not fool-proof. There’s a lot of work to go, [but] it’s a great piece of technology.”

By on June 11, 2011

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.

By on June 9, 2011

I’m not in the business of helping people Tweet better, I’m not in the business of helping people post to Facebook better. My job is to make sure we keep people safe behind the wheel. I’m not going to deny the fact that people want these things. They do. Especially the generation behind us. They’re used to being connected 24 hours a day.

A car is not a mobile device — a car is a car. We will not take a backseat while new telematics and infotainment systems are introduced. There is too much potential for distraction of drivers.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland took the war on distraction to the enemy in a speech to an auto technology conference, reports Bloomberg. With nearly every manufacturer racing towards ever greater implementation of connectivity, communication and entertainment systems in cars, Strickland’s rhetorical line in the sand foreshadows a serious confrontation between industry and government. Either that, or this is just Ray LaHood-style hot air calculated to make it look like something’s happening.

(Read More…)

By on April 7, 2011

Members of the media and the legal profession who receive regular updates from the U.S. Department of Transportation were in for a shock this morning as they opened the last announcement from NHTSA. ZoneAlarm by Check Point Software, which claims market leadership in the firewall and security business, warns that a DOT press release is a “possible fraud attempt.” (Read More…)

By on February 24, 2011

Think using your cell phone or other in-car distractions don’t affect your driving? Don’t try to prove it on the road (jackass), put your reaction-time skills to the test at the NYT’s multitasking reaction-time game. While using your keyboard to navigate gates, a cell phone will distract you with New Yorkian requests which you will have to answer while continuing to navigate through randomly-opening gates. The Times team that came up with the game explains

We weren’t trying to be an exact simulation of driving down the highway or the road — it’s not realistic to have all those gates and people often text in shortened words. It is a game to give you a sense of how a distraction can decrease your ability to react quickly

When you finish, the game will tell you how much multitasking impaired your ability to navigate. Let us know how you did, and if the game changed your opinion about distracted driving.

By on February 18, 2011


With GM’s announcement of a new SYNC-competitor system, the issue of whether or not in-car connectivity systems are compatible with the government’s desire to reduce distracted driving has raised its head once again. So we put the question to you, our Best and Brightest: will the government ever step in to regulate in-car electronics? Should it? After all, distraction comes in all shapes and sizes… from fast food to in-car Facebook updates. Can the government draw a line between acceptable distractions and unacceptable ones? Will any government action actually make a difference in the statistics?

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…)

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