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LaHood's trial balloon didn't get off the ground

If the Obama administration is truly concerned about upsetting an angry U.S. electorate, it ought to check the reactions to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's trial balloon in a recent Bloomberg interview suggesting regulators may ban all cell phone use in cars -- including the use of hands-free technology.

Oh my.

If this isn't another example of a government bureaucrat stepping into a pile of manure, left by a horse that galloped out of the barn a long time ago, then I'm really missing something. Granted, the Automotive News audience is pro-industry, but even then these comments are pretty harsh. Go to www.autonews.com/article/20101008/OEM06/101009881/1182 and see for yourself. At last count, this story generated 44 comments, which is an unusually high number for any story we publish.

LaHood knows all too well that cell phones are a fundamental part of the American driving experience. Trying to regulate it now would be like trying to ban radios from cars. So far about 30 states are trying to regulate cell phone use or texting while driving. But really, make this a federal matter similar to when the feds withheld funds from states that didn't raise the drinking age to 21?

As a single dad with a career and an hour of commuting each day, I have to use my cell phone every morning and evening while I'm driving. Most drivers do.

Now this certainly doesn't mean regulators and lawmakers should hold off on efforts to outlaw texting while driving. It has been well documented that this kind of distracted driving is killing motorists and must be stopped (education will work better than regulation, but that's another debate).

But you can't say the same for people who use hands-free technology for their cell phones. And this kind of technology will continue to improve -- as we've seen with Ford's Sync and similar in-car telematics.

In any case, I sure hope Secretary LaHood lives by what he says and never uses a cell phone or texts when he drives himself into work each day like the rest of us. Otherwise he would give voters yet another reason to dislike his boss in an election year.

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