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Automakers worried about driver cell phone crackdown

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Automakers worried about driver cell phone crackdown

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- Automakers are growing increasingly worried about whether government agencies will crack down further on cell phone use by drivers.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted driving a top priority and will hold his second annual Distracted Driving Summit in Washington Tuesday.

Next Sunday, at a meeting in Kansas City, the Governors Highway Safety Association is slated to consider a proposal by California to ban all cell phone use in vehicles.

"GHSA supports a total ban of cell phone use (hands free and hand held) and text messaging for all drivers," the resolution obtained by The Detroit News says.

"GHSA also supports a ban on electronic devices used for entertainment purposes with video screens that are within view of the driver and a ban for school bus drivers on text messaging or using electronic devices except in emergencies."

The resolution, if adopted, wouldn't be binding on states. But it could boost those who are advocating a ban on cell phone use by drivers.

If a ban were adopted by states, it could block Ford Motor Co. from offering features from its popular Sync system, which allows users to make hands-free calls. Automakers have been working behind the scenes to urge the GHSA not to pass the measure.

Eight states require drivers to use hands-free cell phones, and none ban all cell phone use. But 28 states and Washington, D.C., bar cell phone use by novice drivers.

LaHood hasn't backed a total ban on cell phone use by drivers.

Automakers and LaHood strongly support efforts to ban texting at the wheel -- but even in states that have done so, it's often hard for police to positively identify when motorists are texting. Thirty states prohibit texting by drivers and 12, including Michigan, have instituted bans over the last year.

Michael Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, will attend Tuesday's summit.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today that distracted driving-related crashes claimed 5,474 lives and led to 448,000 traffic injuries across the U.S. in 2009 -- a decline of about 360 deaths over 2008.

Distraction related fatalities represented 16 percent of overall traffic fatalities in 2009, the same percentage as in 2008.

"These numbers show that distracted driving remains an epidemic in America, and they are just the tip of the iceberg," LaHood said. The summit is intended "draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving and work together to save lives."

The numbers show that 995 deaths, or 18 percent, involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction. Cell phone use accounted for 5 percent, or 24,000, of the reported 448,000 injuries. But not all cell phone use is recorded by police after accidents, making a total picture of cell phone use in distracted driving incidents difficult to quantify.

NHTSA's study found that the proportion of fatalities associated with driver distraction increased from 10 to 16 percent between 2005 and 2009. Overall traffic fatalities fell in 2009 to their lowest levels since 1950.

"States are addressing the distracted driving problem comprehensively. Clearly, the highlight is that 12 states have passed texting bans since 2009's Distracted Driving Summit," said GHSA Executive Director Barbara Harsha. "These laws by themselves are not magic bullets. Enforcement paired with public education about the enforcement are just as important."

According to NHTSA data, the under-20 age group was responsible for the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. Sixteen percent of all under-20 drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted while driving. Of those drivers involved in fatal crashes who were reportedly distracted, the 30-39 year old group had the highest proportion of cell phone involvement -- about 24 percent.

Legislative efforts in Congress to ban distracted driving have gone nowhere, and an overhaul of the nation's auto safety laws is stalled -- and likely won't be taken up until next year at the earliest.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100920/AUTO01/9200409/1148/auto01/Automakers-worried-about-driver-cell-phone-crackdown#ixzz106VQvRbc

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This is so ridiculous. I realize that cell phones are distracting, but where is it going to end? it is just as distracting to eat a hamburger, change the radio station, mess with the cd's or any other of the things that all drivers do. The other day I was really involved in a conversation with my Mom who was in the car with me, and I missed my exit due to the distraction. I should probably be embarrassed to admit that, but my point is, the conversation is the distraction, not the device used for the conversation, i.e. cell phone. Are they going to ban drivers from talking with their passengers too?

I don't know what the answer is, but it has to be getting people to open their eyes and become more aware of their surroundings and limit the distractions where appropriate. The biggest safety hazard on the roads, in my opinion, is the lack of respect for the vehicle people are driving, and the simple physics of what happens when you try to stop or turn 4000lbs of metal. If people respected driving as a privilege, instead of considering it a right, things would probably be a lot safer.

That is my 2 cents, take it for what it's worth!

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