Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Deadly Distracted Driving Epidemic

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There is a whole generation of devices already in use that are part of the deadly distracted driving problem, with more on the way.

Automakers and safety experts are out in force today at a Washington meeting on deadly distracted driving. The summit, Over-Connected and Behind the Wheel: A Summit on Technological Solutions to Distracted Driving, is hosted by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller IV.

Automakers, phone companies, internet service providers, electronics makers, and above all consumers have thus far shown little interest in curtailing the use of electronic devices while in motion in spite of mounting injuries and fatalities caused by them. Handheld consumer electronic devices are equally troubling and unaddressed thus far by NHTSA.

“The rapid advancement and adoption of communications technology has resulted in a new and dangerous level of driver distraction,” said David Teater of the National Safety Council. “It is likely that technology can go a long way in reducing distraction; however, if we continue down the current path of enabling drivers to engage in all sorts of infotainment and communications activities, we may be normalizing a dangerous practice that will be difficult to unwind in the future.”

NSC wants a total ban of all types of cell phones in vehicles while they are in motion. The American Osteopathic Association also has come out in favor of legislation banning activities that cause distracted driving. Citing a growing body of research that show 660,000 drivers each day use cell phones or electronic devices, the health care organization of 104,000 osteopathic physicians said the public health problem needs a legislative solution.

“We recognize there is a mad rush toward communications technologies and we don’t want to stop any kind of technology development. We simply want them to be used at the right time and place, and driving a vehicle is not the right time or place to do anything not related to driving. With that in mind, we urge the auto industry to limit the use of infotainment systems by drivers. The industry is already doing this in some ways. Most auto companies prevent moving video from being seen by drivers while a vehicle is in motion. Extending this kind of limitation to drivers’ use of phones and internet would be a significant life-saving move by the industry.” Teater said.

NSC also wants automakers to work toward giving drivers, parents and employers the option of disabling non-driving related functions that are built into vehicles. NSC also recommends automakers collaborate with the wireless and consumer electronics industries and private technology firms to expedite development and deployment of technology solutions to driver distraction.

The Association of Global Automakers claims the issue is important, complicated, and requires stakeholders to work together to encourage safe driving.

In 2011, according to NHTSA data, more than 3,300 people were killed and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. However, a new study from the National Safety Council (NSC) shows that these government statistics on the Distracted Driving problem are deeply flawed, defy common sense and severely underestimate the extent of the deadly public health epidemic that is killing untold thousands and injuring millions more.

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About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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