Texting While Driving? Just Say No, Say Automakers

September 24, 2009

Texting is a permanent part of digital life today, but that doesn't make it safe. And the data on texting while driving is truly frightening: A study of truck drivers by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute showed their risk of a crash or near-crash event was 23 times as high when the driver was texting.

Now the trade group for the major U.S. auto manufacturers has come out in support of a total ban on the use of handheld texting devices while drivers are at the wheel.

The action comes ahead of a U.S. Department of Transportation summit meeting next week to address issues around driver distraction. Ford said it supported a ban on driver texting two weeks ago.

The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers represents General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, and other carmakers. Its opposition to drivers using handheld digital devices is offset by its equally strong support for use of hands-free devices to let drivers make mobile calls.

Those systems include GM's OnStar and Ford's Sync, among others.

Texting on a handheld device, which removes the driver's eyes from the road, is the single riskiest digital activity studied so far. But the process of conversing--not the devices used--takes mental attention too, so the AAM's position doesn't fully address the dangers posed by distracted drivers.

A recent multi-part series in The New York Times explored the data on driver distraction and its dangers in great detail.

The desire to text and communicate may be here to stay, however. The former head of R&D at General Motors, Larry Burns, said today's most connected younger drivers prefer texting to driving:

“We asked younger people about texting while driving; they told us the driving distracted them from texting.”

Bring on those autonomous vehicles with autopilots, we say.

Texting behind the wheel

Texting behind the wheel

[Detroit News]

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