U.S. regulators, who’ve asked automakers to restrict how drivers can use in-dashboard infotainment systems, may draft guidelines for mobile devices and voice-activated controls in cars, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The guidelines may apply to handheld phones, GPS devices and portable music players such as iPods, as well as voice- activated systems such as Ford Motor Co. (F)’s Sync and General Motors Co. (GM)’s OnStar.
LaHood, at a press conference today in Washington, didn’t say whether the guidelines would be directed at the wireless industry or auto companies.
“I’ve met with every car executive and talked with them about what they can do to help us with technology they’re putting in cars that may become a distraction to drivers,” he said. “We hope to examine voice commands for hands-free functions too.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Transportation Department agency, is researching whether hands- free systems distract drivers and, if so, how that compares with the distraction caused by hand-held devices, Ron Medford, NHTSA deputy administrator, said.
LaHood, who has focused on distracted driving since becoming President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary in 2009, also called on the 11 states with no laws banning texting and driving to pass measures to do so.
“Americans have gotten into very dangerous behavior with their cell phones and their texting devices to think they can use them behind the wheel of a car,” he said. “People continue to be killed and injured despite the fact these deaths are 100 percent preventable.”
LaHood discussed the next steps in his campaign a day after Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. mobile-phone carrier, said it’s teaming up with automakers including Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) and Honda Motor Co. to promote the use of fourth-generation wireless Internet features in cars.
The 4G Venture Forum for Connected Cars will encourage manufacturers, suppliers, device makers and other companies to use the new wireless standard, which allows for faster Internet connections, Verizon said today in a statement. The group also includes Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW), Hyundai Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp.
Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ), the co-owner of Verizon Wireless, announced plans last week to buy Hughes Telematics Inc. (HUTC) for $612 million in cash, expanding the telephone company’s presence in the automotive-technology market.
“The government is on the right track by taking a holistic approach that integrates technologies available today,” Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in an e-mail. “We hope to see guidelines that encourage hands-free, voice-activated systems like automakers are already offering.”
The Washington-based trade group’s members include Toyota, Ford and GM.
The Transportation Department in February issued voluntary guidelines for automakers for built-in systems used for infotainment and navigation. The guidelines, which aren’t binding, recommend that no task for drivers take longer than two seconds and that cars be stopped and in park before drivers can enter navigation commands or use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“We want to make sure they understand, and that’s why we put out the voluntary guidelines that we did, that the ability to download Facebook, the ability to access information while you’re driving the car is not exactly a safe way to drive,” LaHood said. “There have to be ways for car companies to address these issues.”
The Centers for Disease Control, in a study released this month, found that 58 percent of high school seniors said they had texted or e-mailed while driving at least once in the 30 days before they were surveyed. Boys were more likely than girls to have reported doing so.
LaHood said he’s also met with Steve Largent, chief executive officer of the wireless industry’s trade group, CTIA- the Wireless Association, about distractions that may be caused by his members’ devices.
“We agree with the secretary that the combination of legislation, technology and education provides the best opportunity to combat the problem of distracted driving,” John Walls, a CTIA spokesman, said in an e-mail.
In 2010, at least 3,092 people, or 9.4 percent of road fatalities, were killed in crashes related to driver distraction, according to NHTSA.
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