U.S. Summit to Bring Drivers to Their Senses

     The U.S. Department of Transportation will host a two-day summit this week on problems surrounding distracted driving and solutions to cope with what has become a national mischief.

    It will be interesting to hear the various parties analyze the situation and testify about what they think needs to be done. The meeting will be held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 in Washington.

    Most of people are aware that distracted driving is a safety issue, and one that continues to grow with the proliferation of information aimed at the driver. Juggling food and beverages while driving is hardly the only risky behavior that leads to crashes. Anything that draws the driver’s attention away from the road for as little as three seconds, researchers say, is fraught with danger. That includes the misuse of essential personal communication devices. Little doubt that frivolous text messages or ill-timed phone calls will be one of the main topics on DOT’s summit.

    Everything from increasingly popular animated maps to automatic messages from the communication units on vehicles that warn of engine anomalies and maintenance issues can be a distraction. Even so-called green cars, such as the Toyota Prius, add potential distractions with their display panels showing fuel efficiency and battery charge levels in real time.

   American Trucking Associations applauds Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for moving to combat the distraction problem. As ATA President Bill Graves said, “Improving driver performance by eliminating distractions, including those caused by text-messaging, will greatly improve the safety of all motorists.”

   The National Transportation Safety Board, during the Bush administration, recommended addressing cell-phone use by commercial drivers. But a delicate balance is needed.

   ATA supports legislation proposed by several senators to ban reading, writing and sending text messages at all times while operating a vehicle.

    Meanwhile, the federal government should not outlaw reasonable and prudent use of in-cab devices that help manage fleet operations or enable truck fleets to communicate with their drivers.

   It is possible to adopt rules that will control the dangers of information overload while allowing people to reap the benefits of the systems. Together, regulators and the regulated surely can find a way to limit safety hazards, while permitting the benefits of new technologies to make drivers more efficient.

The Transport Topics contributed to the report.

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