One focal point of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's administration is tackling the issue distracted driving. Reducing handheld cellphone use while driving, and prohibiting texting while driving continue to be central to the fight against distracted driving. LaHood, however, has recently identified new technologies that are being designed into cars, as well as new smartphone applications as the most recent threat to American drivers.
In September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will issue new guidelines for automakers that will regulate the use of in-vehicle technology. Programs like GM's OnStar and Ford's Sync, as well as several popular smartphone applications, allow users to access websites like YouTube, Facebook, Pandora and Twitter while operating their vehicles. The NHTSA believes the cognitive distraction created by these devices poses a danger to both drivers and others on the road.
One way the NHTSA hopes to curb distracted driving is to encourage states to pass tough distracted driving laws. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia already ban texting while driving, and a handful of other states ban handheld cellphone use while driving.
In North Carolina, texting while driving is a primary offense, meaning that law enforcement can pull someone over if the officer spots someone texting behind the wheel even if they are not committing another driving offense. Though the state does not ban handheld cellphone use for all drivers, school bus drivers and drivers under the age of 18 are prohibited from using handheld devices while behind the wheel.
The private sector is also developing ways to curb distracted driving. One company in particular is using the same new technology the NHTSA is targeting to decrease distraction. Zoomsafer offers a smartphone application called "MobileSafer" for BlackBerry phones. The application uses GPS and Bluetooth technology to determine if its user is behind the wheel, and will automatically disable texting and phone calls when the user is driving. The application sends callers and texters an automated reply to let them know that the receiver is behind the wheel.
The new technology being designed into vehicles poses a new threat to the safety of the nation's roadways, but new regulations and new private sector developments have the potential to curb the dangers of distracted driving.