U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's fatwa against distracted driving could grow to include a ban on all in-car cellphone use and new tech automakers have already rolled out. Distracted driving is dumb; so are over-reaching regulations buffaloed into existence.
Throughout the distracted driving debate, the idea of banning cellphones altogether from cars has been brought up before and knocked down. Last month, the Governors Highway Safety Association decided against the idea, saying it was unenforceable and unproven to reduce crashes, even as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said current bans on handheld cellphone use haven't reduced accidents.
Any such ban would also outlaw technology that a growing number of car owners seek out when they buy a vehicle. Ford's Sync system has proven incredibly popular; General Motors has touted the Bluetooth integration on its Chevy Cruze as a key selling point over the Toytoa Corolla. GM, Ford and others have plans to let drivers use Facebook, Twitter and other networks from behind the wheel in some kind of hands-free setup.
In response, LaHood has grown more set in his drive. He's used the government blog to hector complaints about the effectiveness of cellphone bans. He's thrown out the idea of warning labels on cellphones similar to cigarette labels. And he tells Bloomberg that hands-free cell phone conversations are "cognitive distractions," something safety officials could tackle when they write tougher rules next year.
Distracted driving isn't driving at all; it's shucking responsibility for your safety and that of other people on the road. But just as we don't understand exactly how distractions affect crashes, we also don't know how much technology might help to reduce them.
LaHood actually doesn't have the power to ban all cellphone use in cars; under U.S. laws, driver behavior is a state problem, not a federal one. But the federal government can twist arms to get what it wants.