LaHood Seeks Automotive ‘Kill Switch’ for Cell Phones

LaHood Seeks Automotive ‘Kill Switch’ for Cell Phones

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is considering mandating technology that would automatically disable cell phones in cars. LaHood acknowledged the possibility in November when he launched a new public service advertising campaign against texting while driving.

In interviews with MSNBC and Bloomberg News in October, LaHood said federal officials are looking into such technology, raising all kinds of public policy and government control questions.

"When you are driving, you should be focused on one thing—driving,” said Morris Panner, CEO of GroupFlier, a company offering group-texting services based in Bethesda, Maryland. “To have the government come in and override the common sense of motorists, just isn't right and leaves too much at risk. What if the motorist is stranded or facing an emergency? The government in that case would literally leave people in the cold."

‘Guilty Until Proven Innocent’
John C. A. Bambenek, vice chairman of the Illinois Republican Liberty Caucus, agreed: “The plan is shortsighted, as many other devices are using cellular technology, which would also be blocked. For instance, I use NetFlix on my iPad so my kids can watch movies while I drive. What about buses and RVs, where passengers and drivers are more separated? Will LaHood stop using his phone while he is chauffeured around?”

“I get that drivers need to pay attention. Accidents and injuries caused by driver distraction are a bad thing,” said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of Edmunds.com, an online automotive publication. “But LaHood is focusing too much attention on distracted driving instead of other safety pursuits.… One thing I can say: If he is really serious about driver distractions, why stop at cell phones? Why not go all the way and ban other forms of distractions as well?”

Anwyl added: “What could be more of a distraction than turning to talk with a passenger? Why not ban passengers?”

Manage and Minimize Distraction
“It’s unmanageable; the devices would be immediately disabled. It adopts a guilty until proven innocence policy,” said Anwyl. “In his quest to stop all traffic accidents, which will never happen, we have a more intrusive federal government.”

The just-say-no tack also overlooks the existence of car electronics that might actually enhance safety, such as collision-avoidance technology, which relies on visual and aural cues to alert drivers, Anwyl said.

“Secretary LaHood properly identifies the issue of distracted driving as a concern. However, limiting the concept to ‘just’ wireless device usage is not the right way to solve the problem,” said John Myers, principal consultant and senior analyst for the Blue Buffalo Group in Lafayette, Colorado. “The transportation secretary should address a broader range of distracted driving issues and not just wireless device usage. And the best way to attack the overall issue is to reform how all distracted drivers are punished for moving violations based on their ‘poor performance’ and not the presence of a wireless device.”

Education Seen As Better Deterrent
Education would be a better deterrent than a so-called kill switch, Myers said.

“LaHood should use a campaign similar to the existing seat belt and ‘non-hands-free’ wireless device laws rather than attempting to mandate design attributes for the wireless device and automobile industries,” he said.

Anwyl and Bambenek both acknowledge distracted driving is a danger, but they say any plans for the government to force inclusion of a cell phone kill switch in autos is not only an ill-conceived idea but also one that will do little, if anything, to improve safety on the road.

Phil Britt (spenterprises@wowway.com) writes from South Holland, Illinois.