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Government hearings on limiting in car navigation systems useless if they don’t regulate smartphones

March 14, 2012

The U.S. Department of Transportation is holding hearings on limiting the use in-car navigation systems, but it’s not trying to impose limits on smartphones.  If they knew my husband, they’d understand how useless that policy really is.  Unfortunately, he is no different than many with smartphones.

Because, people and their gadgets can be a dangerous combination—especially when driving is involved.

Every time my husband gets into his car, he sets the GPS and the miles destination counter.  Admittedly it’s a useful tool to get him quickly and efficiently to unfamiliar business meetings.

However, he also sets when he’s only traveling two miles to the neighborhood drugstore when he has driven countless times before during the past 20 years.  That gadget needs to be activated.

It gets a little more complex when the gadgetry is used during his driving.  Before entering the vehicle to drive to work, he “suits up” with technology.  His smartphone and earpiece in hand.  As he pulls out of the driveway, he sets the GPS and mileage counter and then begins tapping a phone number on his smartphone.  Here’s where it gets dicey.

He hasn’t spent enough time learning how to operate his car sync system, so his voice is not recognized; therefore he doesn’t use the hands free option.  So as he drives down the street, he taps his phone book searching for his numbers.  I think this is problematic…he thinks it’s just fine.

If I’m a passenger in the car, I insist on dialing the phone numbers, but I know when he’s alone, he’s looking down, squinting at his iPhone while trying to pay attention.  “I can multi-task” he tells me.

Oh sure, and as  he hits the expressway, traveling the entrance ramp at 70 mph,  I think of him doing this drill scrolling through his cell phone book.  Horrors!

About a minute goes by and a text comes into his phone.  “I’ll read it for you,” I tell him.  “No” he says grabbing the phone from my hand like a commander of an armed force.  “I can do it.”

Then after reading, the typing starts up to return the text.

“Not now,” I shout with fright.  “We’re going to get into an accident.”

“I do this all the time when I’m alone,” he tells me.

Oh that’s a relief I sarcastically answer.

My Baby Boomer husband—who is old enough to know better– is part of a huge group or people known as “district acted drivers.”

Right now, the US Department of Transportation is holding hearings on tightening the federal guidelines for in-car technology, but not for smartphone usage.  The proposed federal guidelines would require automakers to block drivers from putting addresses into navigation systems or browsing the Web while driving.  However, devices drivers bring into their cars are not addressed.

I agree with automakers who are telling Congress that drivers will turn to their mobile devices for information they can’t get from their cars.  Imposing distracted driving federal guidelines on automakers is unfair, and useless if similar guidelines are not imposed for mobile devices.

This is the point Rob Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, argues.  He says that the Alliance members, which include all of the big automakers except Honda, agreed to abide by the federal guidelines which call for dashboard tasks to need no more than 10 two-second glances.  However, the new federal proposal would cut that to six two-second glances and lock out navigation input and Web browsing.

While I think it’s a good idea to encourage the automakers to more strongly regulate the navigation devices, I think the government has to be careful not to put undue pressure on the automakers that are just rebounding from the brink of bankruptcy.

As a life-long Detroiter whose family has never been employed by the auto industry, I believe the auto industry is concerned about product safety.  Industry executives don’t want distracted drivers causing accidents.  That’s not good for anyone involved.

But putting unreasonable or excessive regulations on smartcars isn’t the answer either.  Not when the driver can still freely use a smartphone with unregulated devices.

What we really need are more state laws that ticket distracted drivers.  You know the ones I mean—the not so smart drivers like my husband who is constantly on his smartphone.

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