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Feds renew interest in ban on drivers’ devices

CES 2013: Ultraviolet & Cloud-based Content

As carmakers and consumer electronics companies find new ways to connect drivers to their gadgets, the National Transportation Safety Board is renewing a call to remove devices that do not relate to the actual practice of driving.

The agency listed distracted driving — which covers everything from cell phones to in-dash entertainment systems and other hands-free devices — on its 2013 “Most Wanted” list, which identifies the year’s biggest transportation challenges.

The inclusion comes a year after the board called for a complete ban on cell phones in vehicles, even when used with hands-free devices. While that got a lot of media attention, the effort suffered a seemingly fatal blow when Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood rejected the proposal.

Portable electronic devices that do not directly support the task at hand have no place in vehicles,” the NTSB said in its announcement of the “Most Wanted” list. “Distraction is not just about the manipulation of a device or a visual distraction. It is also about cognitive distraction or not being fully engaged in the task at hand.”

LaHood has also put distracted driving toward the top of his own priority list — and remains an NTSB ally.

His “Blueprint for Ending Distracted Driving” calls on the 11 states that do not currently have distracted driving laws to enact and enforce them. He has also encouraged the auto industry to adopt new technology guidelines in an effort to reduce distractions while on the road.

Ultimately, states will likely be the ones to decide whether to follow the NTSB or DOT’s suggestions, but there doesn’t seem to be a strong movement beyond banning text messages (Ford Motor Co’s AppLink system forbids video or scrolling text).

But as consumers get more used to their app-filled cars, it could be tougher to remove connectivity from cars, especially as automakers introduce more features at events like CES this week (a record eight automobile companies will be showcasing their in-car entertainment offerings this week in Las Vegas).

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — an automotive trade group made up of 12 car and light truck manufacturers including BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM and Toyota — is monitoring the NTSB’s and DOT’s efforts, but publicly has maintained that consumers will make it a point to stay connected, no matter what.

“It is also important to understand that consumers have numerous connectivity options, particularly via portable electronic devices,” the group said in a statement last year. “If in-vehicle systems are overly curtailed and portable devices are not addressed, consumers will migrate quickly to alternate potentially more distracting and less safe means of staying connected.”

CES 2013: Ultraviolet & Cloud-based Content
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