In an attempt to make Americans safer drivers, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says his agency is preparing research that may lead to an Obama administration push for a national ban on all driver cell phone use, including hands-free devices.
In a recent interview, LaHood said he believes motorists are dangerously distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving and even objects to vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford's Sync and GM's OnStar.
“I don’t want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they’re driving,” LaHood said. “We need a lot better research on other distractions.”
According to Bloomberg, LaHood's escalating campaign "may limit the growth of vehicle features... being added by automakers to attract younger buyers." In addition to limiting carmaker's options, a nation-wide ban on cell phones may also hurt significantly hurt the revenues of mobile-phone companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
LaHood has also characterized hands-free phone conversations as a “cognitive distraction” and drivers should be prohibited from using them. The government may turn to the "power of the purse" to pursue a ban:
The Transportation Department’s powers to push further limits on distracted driving range from exhortations to setting standards backed by the federal government’s financial clout. The government previously awarded highway aid to states based on whether they raised the legal drinking age to 21 or required seatbelt use.
“In one year, we have made a difference,” LaHood said of his effort to win state restrictions. “Our goal is to get all 50 states.”
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety condemns LaHood's campaign against distracted driving, saying he should focus resources on other safety efforts. A study the Institute released last month concluded that laws banning texting while driving don't actually reduce crash numbers. In a look at four states which passed bans, the study found the overall number of car crashes increased in three of the states -- a likely result of drivers taking their eyes off the road even more to try and text while simultaneously hiding their handheld device from view of passing police patrol cars.
The campaign against distracted driving and the use of mobile phones in the car will continue in stages, LaHood said.
“The bottom line for me is to get where we’re at with seat belts and with drunk driving,” he said. “When those programs were started, people were very skeptical that you could get people to buckle up.”