The auto industry must take the lead in fighting driver distraction. It is a serious problem that kills thousands of Americans each year. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of the fatal crashes in the United States in 2008, according to the National Safety Council.
There are many sources of distraction, including eating, drinking, smoking and tending to personal hygiene while behind the wheel. But at the top of the list is using a wireless device, such as a cell phone, according to a study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
So it is the influx of infotainment equipment and cyber connectivity in vehicles that is causing the most worries -- products craved by consumers, especially young ones.
Distraction issues have been building since automakers began installing AM radios, which were followed by AM-FM; eight-track, cassette and CD players; then satellite radios. The ability to connect to the Web while driving has elevated the problem.
Bluetooth and other technologies that enable hands-free operation have reduced some distractions. Software programs that prevent texting while driving are good. But more must be done to keep the driver's attention focused on the road by limiting the potential number of distractions.
Regulation is growing. Several states already ban texting or talking on a cell phone while driving, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood started a campaign encouraging local police departments to write tickets for texting while driving.
Some manner of stepped-up federal regulation seems likely.
But it would be better if SAE developed global standards for avoiding driver distraction rather than letting government do it.
The time to end driver distraction is now.
As one modern philosopher puts it: "Honk if you love Jesus; text if you want to meet him."