Tech encouraging cell phone use in cars

Marketplace Staff Jan 21, 2010

Tech encouraging cell phone use in cars

Marketplace Staff Jan 21, 2010


Steve Chiotakis: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has a goal of banning cell phone use behind the wheel. Among his reasons — new research that shows as many as 1 in 4 car crashes is the result of
texting or talking while driving. But while LaHood takes a hard line, automakers are veering the other way. From the Marketplace Transportation Desk, here’s Collin Campbell.

Collin Campbell: Ray LaHood’s list for what we’re not allowed to do behind the wheel is a long one.

Ray LaHood: If you’re eating a hamburger, combing your hair, shaving, putting eye makeup on, trying to get a disruptive child in the back seat to behave — those are all distractions.

The distraction he is most focused on is your cell phone. Last week, LaHood helped to launch a nonprofit group which will publicize the stories of those hurt or killed by distracted drivers.

But his effort faces a technological tidal wave. Phones now come with driving directions. Hands-free Bluetooth devices are getting better. And automakers are creating dashboards that look more like laptops.

Car commercial: You’re about to see a major shift in the way you interact with your car.

Ford is promoting models that will bring Twitter to cars and touch screen-instruments that connect drivers with their gadgets.

Car commercial: Keep in touch by phone (“Hi, it’s Sarah”) and text.

And the DOT is creating a new system for cars to talk to each other, which could evolve into something like the Internet on wheels.

Shelly Rowe is head of the agency’s research arm:

Shelly Rowe: If we can create tise ability for vehicles to communicate amongst themselves and with the roadway, then it is a platform on which other applications can run, much like the Internet.

Rowe says there will be strong safety requirements for software developers. One option is smart sensor technology, which would turn off devices based on speed or other risk factors.

Russell Shields is the chairman of Ygomi, a company that makes auto electronics. He says driving conditions would be assigned a safety ranking.

Russell Shields: So zero you’re stopped. Nine you’re driving like an idiot. And have the systems like your mobile phone use those codes to determine what you can do. So if you’re turning left, it won’t allow the phone to ring.

Secretary LaHood says he doesn’t have the power to stop car makers from bringing Internet apps into the driver’s seat. But this Spring, the DOT will pay for police in some states to try and catch drivers on their phones. That way, if LaHood gets what he wants — a nationwide ban on cell phone use by drivers — he’ll be ready to enforce it.

In Washington, I’m Collin Campbell for Marketplace.

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