Do We Need a Nationwide Ban on Distracted Driving?

Do We Need a Nationwide Ban on Distracted Driving?

Regulators are debating the merits of a nationwide ban on distracted driving, sparking debate over whether a block across the U.S. goes too far, or if state and industry efforts can counter the rising problem.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants a federal ban on using cell phones on the road, calling for increased ticketing with a proposed nationwide law. Legislators are pushing for stricter law enforcement in a number of states, but LaHood’s nationwide ban would give the country a unified, blanket law.

LaHood, comparing the distracted driving epidemic to drunk driving, announced his intentions at a distracted-driving summit amid victims of accidents caused by reckless in-car cell phone use, but his proposal will not go through without opposition from powerful lobbying interests, who say significant efforts are already underway at the state and industry level.

Aren’t States Doing Enough?

Gary Biller, president of the National Motorists Association (NMA) opposes federal legislation, pointing out state-specific laws will have the same effect.

New York, California and a number of other states have outlawed phone use on the road, but this ban would extend to all 50 states.

California’s campaign, for example, included ramped up ticketing and highway signs comparing distracted drivers to zombies, and accident rates have dropped.

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called for beefed up federal guidelines for automakers to discourage cars built with features that encourage cell phone use, giving LaHood’s proposition a boost on the national level.

Auto Makers and Other Industry Efforts to Combat Distracted Driving

The auto industry is unlikely to embrace LaHood’s proposal, since it runs counter to automakers’ intentions to incorporate the technology into their vehicles.

The auto industry, while supportive of lawmakers’ efforts to make the roads safer, is already making inroads using smartphone technology to alleviate traffic and develop smarter cars. A number of apps guiding motorists through congested areas have hit the market, and the trend towards cars integrating smartphone technology is unlikely to cease.

A ban on using cell phones in vehicles may produce tension between automakers who want to keep pace with innovative mobile technology and legislators who want to safeguard against the effects of technology and public safety.

Carriers, for their part, helping to discourage distracted driving with motion-sensitive apps available to re-route calls to users in transit, including offerings from AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

Is It Enough?

No one argues distracted driving is a serious issue, but the scale of LaHood’s proposed ban may be startling for industry and lawmakers to mull over.

LaHood’s proposed ban may negate the potential benefits arising from incorporating technology into cars and driving, and prove problematic for automakers trying to make their cars stand out from the crowd with smartphone-integrated accessories. However, distracted driving persists despite increased penalties and crackdowns, with no existing solution able to curb an increasingly serious problem.

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