Transportation Secretary Expects To Use Technology To Block All Mobile Phone Usage In Cars [Updated]

from the unintended-consequences... dept

We've noted in the past that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has long been an advocate of wider bans on various technologies in cars. Just last month he said he hoped to have a complete ban on talking to any kind of device in your car, including mobile phones, telematics systems like OnStar, and GPS systems. His latest argument (as sent in by quite a few of you) is to suggest that perhaps the US government will mandate technology that blocks a mobile phone from working while the car is moving. We've talked about this technology before (though I'm having trouble finding earlier posts on it). It would simply recognize if the phone is moving at a certain rate of speed and then block the phone from being used. LaHood seems to like the idea:
"There's a lot of technology out there now that can disable phones and we're looking at that," said LaHood on MSNBC.... "I think it will be done," said LaHood. "I think the technology is there and I think you're going to see the technology become adaptable in automobiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if were going to save lives."
Of course, it's unclear why passengers shouldn't be able to use mobile phones while in a car (or bus or train) as well. There are also different ways that this can work, whether with scramblers or with software installed on the phone but, in either case, you could see it banning phone calls in perfectly safe situations (on a train or a bus?). Once again, this seems like overkill. Furthermore, it will almost certainly have unintended consequences. We've already pointed to some recent research that showed that driving-while-texting bans increased accidents, as drivers kept on texting, but hid their phones lower, taking their eyes even further off the road.

No one denies that distracted driving is quite dangerous. But we shouldn't be rushing into simply banning stuff or mandating blocks without thinking through the actual implications of that.

Update: LaHood is now claiming that his remarks were misrepresented. However, it's not clear that's the case. He restates the first part of what he said on MSNBC and doesn't say anything about the second part -- when he was pushed on whether or not the tech would become mandated, and he said "I think it will be done." In his response, he seems to ignore that part of what he said...

Filed Under: distracted driving, driving, ray lahood, technology


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2010 @ 11:00pm

    Re: This would be absurd.

    People who seem unable to operate a moving vehicle safely while drinking are certainly unsafe. The rest of us, however, are safe.

    In other words, when we look at the amount of times someone looks at something not directly in front of them (such as a billboard on the side of the road, for example) and then swerves left of center or worse, crashes into someone else or something else, we don't consider making it illegal to look at billboards, etc. or anything not directly in front of us. Instead, we make it illegal to swerve left of center, crash, etc, regardless the reason... i.e, if you can't operate a vehicle safely with all the distractions around you, then your driving behavior reflects it and you get ticketed.

    I will be the first to admit that when I first started drinking YEARS ago, I noticed that I was driving extremely slow (I was subconsciously wrapped up in the drinking and trying to maintain safety while driving, resulting in an excessive reduction in speed). I immediately recognized this is ridiculous, because it shouldn't be any different than drinking as a passenger.

    That's when I figured out that my drinking in a bar all my life put my brain into a 'mode' when I drank where I did not necessarily have to pay attention to what's around me. Drinking in a bar, I was willing to bet, if studied would yield results that showed less comprehension of the conversation than when drinking in a car due to the 'mode' your brain goes into from significant past experience drinking in a bar.

    That being said, I was able to very quickly adjust my 'mode' of thinking when I drank that is the same mode I am in when I am drinking as a passenger. My attention is on the road, the drinking is secondary. The bottle often is pulled away from my mouth if I must look any direction other than in front of me, it's muscle memory by now, regardless if I am in mid-swallow. I simply switch lanes (for example), pull the bottle up to my mouth and take another swig. I have no worry in the world of 'offending' anyone I am drinking with, as they can go fly a kite if they don't like it. I am sure there are many people who have learned how to drink while driving in the same attention focus as when they have a passenger in the car and are drinking with them. After all, try can count how many times you see someone who is driving and drinking who does NOT swerve, or otherwise drive erratically. I do this on a regular basis, and they far out number those who drive erratically or unsafe. We only hear from the anti-drinking crowd who vents about all the drivers they see drinking and perhaps at times LOOK for any sign of illegal driving, otherwise known as confirmation bias.

    The point here being that just as we learn to deal with distractions on the road in driver's ed. class and have since learned to navigate quite efficiently even taking a slight gander at one of those distractions here and there. We don't criminalize 'taking ganders' because some people haven't figured out how to drive with billboards, etc. on the side of the road.

    As well, we shouldn't ban drink-driving just because some people can't navigate while drinking.

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