This week, U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened his second “distracted driving summit” in Washington, D.C., designed to raise awareness of an issue LaHood has made his signature.
The secretary spent Tuesday showcasing people who had lost family members to drivers who were texting or talking on a cell phone behind the wheel, along with state and federal politicians who have taken up the cause.
He says his goal is to get drivers to put their cells, smart phones and iPods away while they’re in their cars. In interviews, he’s endorsed a national distracted-driving law that would penalize states that don’t crack down on the practice. LaHood is hoping to change the social acceptance of cell phone use while driving much in the same way that drunk driving became taboo over the last 25 years.
And although some studies have shown distracted driving to be as big a threat as driving under the influence of alcohol, I think changing Americans’ habits on this issue could be much more difficult than making motorists think twice before drinking.
For one, drunk driving, even before enforcement and penalties were stiffened, was something most people did not do. But according to many studies, almost everyone uses their cell phone behind the wheel at least occasionally. Changing behavior on such an ingrained, widespread practice won’t be easy.
That’s reflected in the laws that have been passed on the issue so far. About 30 states have banned texting while driving, most in just the last few years. But far fewer ban use of handheld cell phones. And no state bans all cell use behind the wheel - something LaHood also endorses.
In fact, he doesn’t like GPS navigation systems and much of the other hands-free technology that automakers have installed in cars in recent years as causing “cognitive impairment,” even if drivers’ hands stay on the wheel.
What do you think? Does your company limit or ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices on the job? What about GPS? Is glancing down at a map or written directions worse than looking at a monitor mounted to the dashboard?