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January 29, 2013 1:07 PM
JAMIE LaREAU

Losing LaHood: What it means for the war on distracted driving

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Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News

I felt a lump in my throat reading today’s Automotive News headline: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to step down.

I have no political affiliation to LaHood, but I consider him my kindred spirit in our mutual concern with distracted driving.

And I worry that whoever replaces him won’t wage the same level of war against it.

Regular readers know my opposition to technology that takes a driver’s mind and eyes off the road. And that extends beyond talking or texting on a mobile phone. Like LaHood, I believe in-vehicle touch screen and voice-recognition software, such as MyFord Touch and the Cadillac CUE system to name a few, can be just as distracting to a driver as a mobile phone.

LaHood said that his department has been on a “rampage” against behind-the-wheel distractions. He believes that it’s not enough to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road; a driver’s mind should be on the road, too. That’s not possible if the driver is engaged in a conversation on the phone or fumbling through touch screens to adjust the temperature.

Drivers will always be subject to some level of distraction. Each time a driver changes a radio station, tweaks the climate settings or converses with another occupant, he or she is distracted momentarily.

But LaHood’s “rampage” was a big step for the industry — to bring awareness and keep the conversation going about the importance of paying attention and mitigating distractions as much as possible behind the wheel.

I hope his replacement stays the course.

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