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LaHood Shortsighted on Envisioned Cellphone Ban

Without putting too fine a point on it, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is nuts. He wants to see an outright ban on any kind of cellphone use while driving and he’s pretty iffy on vehicle information and entertainment systems like Sync (Ford) and OnStar (General Motors.)

While LaHood, 64, goes on at some length about “cognitive distraction” — obviously he’s never had a couple of toddlers trying to rip each other’s ears off in the backseat — he’s blithely ignoring the fact that systems that alert emergency responders and wake up drowsing drivers are a pretty darn good thing.

And he’s not lending any credence to the fact that the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety just published a study indicating bans on texting aren’t reducing crashes — they may well be increasing them. Why? Because people are texting anyway, but they’re trying to hide their phones while they’re doing it, which makes the behavior even more distracted.

Short-sighted government officials like LaHood don’t realize that the very thing we should be encouraging the auto industry to do is make better handsfree technology for anything people want to do behind the wheel — from talking on the phone to updating their Facebook page. (And make sure they get hefty discounts on their car insurance for every bit of that technology they use.)

Seriously people. When you can spend .99 cents in an iPad app and accurately dictate your Twitter updates is it so unreasonable to want to talk to your iPod in your car and cue up your favorite playlist?

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers hit the nail on the head. “Our feeling is it’s a matter of balancing what we know people are going to do anyway with what technology can help them do safer in a vehicle. We know that people are going to have conversations and look at maps and listen to music in a vehicle.”

How worried is the automotive industry? Well, Ford is working on bringing social networking, web browsing, and thumb controls into 80 percent of its models by 2015. Wake up Mr. LaHood. This is not your granddaddy’s Model T we’re talking about.

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