Major automakers today endorsed a ban on texting and using hand-held mobile phones while driving, ahead of a Transportation Department summit next week on distracted driving.
“Clearly, using a hand-held device to text or call while driving is a safety risk,” said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “The alliance supports a ban on hand-held texting and calling while driving to accelerate the transition to more advanced, safer ways to manage many common potential distractions.”
McCurdy said using a mobile phone without a hands-free device or scrolling through a cellular phone’s list of phone numbers may put drivers at risk.
But the industry strongly supports allowing hands-free devices to make calls. Some states ban the use of cell phones by drivers without using a hands-free device. “You have to minimize the eyes off the road time. That’s critical,” McCurdy said.
The alliance represents 11 automakers, including Detroit’s Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Daimler AG and BMW AG.
Ford Motor Co. endorsed a ban earlier this month as part of an effort to defend its Sync system, which among other features reads a caller’s text messages to a driver and allows them to make phone calls or play songs through voice commands.
General Motors Co. spokesman Greg Martin said the Detroit automaker agreed with calls to ban texting behind the wheel.
“Text messaging is dangerous while driving. It should be banned,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood plans to hold a summit next week on distracted driving and address the issue of texting.
“If it were up to me, I would ban drivers from texting,” LaHood said in August. “But we’ve learned from our efforts to get people to wear seat belts and to persuade them not to drive drunk that laws aren’t always enough. Often, you need to combine education with enforcement to get results.”
He said the summit will include senior transportation officials, safety advocates, law enforcement representatives, members of Congress and academics.
“When we are done, I expect to have a list of concrete steps to announce,” LaHood said. “The bottom line is, we need to put an end to unsafe cell phone use, typing on BlackBerry (devices) and other activities that require drivers to take their eyes off the road and their focus away from driving.”
A Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., would withhold highway funding to states that didn’t adopt a ban. Ford has endorsed the bill, but the alliance hasn’t specifically endorsed the measure.
McCurdy said the alliance supports the intent behind the bill’s effort to ban texting. The alliance goes farther than the Schumer bill, in calling for an outright ban on using hand-held cell phones.
States would lose 25 percent of their funds if they didn’t comply under Schumer’s bill, and the provision is similar to one that enticed states to adopt a 0.08 percent blood alcohol level limit for drunken driving.
To date, 18 states and the District of Columbia have banned sending text messages. But the issue has gotten a lot of attention this summer in Washington amid a series of reports highlighting the issue. Congress could act on the question before the end of the year. Schumer’s bill has five co-sponsors in the Senate. Michigan doesn’t ban the practice.
A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study released in July said drivers of heavy vehicles using a hand-held text messaging system had 23.2 times as high a risk of a crash than drivers who weren’t.
A House version sponsored by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., has seven supporters currently.
Some safety advocates want all texting or all cell phone use banned. The National Safety Council has called on banning all cell phone use while driving.
But automakers note that technology will always be involved in driving.
“Drivers must be able to perform multiple functions safely, whether it is turning on the windshield wipers, the radio or the climate control while driving,” the alliance said.