WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- An influential U.S. senator warned automakers and technology executives that he'll propose regulating in-car use of mobile phones to Internet-connected entertainment systems unless they do more to reduce driver distractions.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., told officials of companies including General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp., Google Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., AT&T Inc. and Apple Inc. to move faster on implementing standards for in-car technology use.
Rockefeller, who is not seeking re-election this year after five terms in the Senate, convened an unusual all-day forum in Washington on Thursday to discuss the topic.
"Why is it so important for kids to drive around and update their Facebook statuses?" Rockefeller said. "For teenagers, it's a way of being cool. For those of you who sell cars, it's a way of you being cool and making a lot of money from that. How many people have died? How many people have almost died?"
Automakers have promoted voice-based messaging as a safer alternative to taking hands off the steering wheel to place a call and talk on a handheld phone.
About 9 million infotainment systems will be shipped this year in cars sold worldwide, with that number projected to rise to more than 62 million by 2018, according to a March report by London-based ABI Research.
While maps, music and news features can make driving better, too much focus has been applied on providing drivers with the features and connectivity they get on smartphones, Rockefeller said.
"I'm very unhappy," the 76-year-old lawmaker said. "I'm very nervous, not just about deaths but about close-to-death injuries. All for the sake of outdoing each other and making more money."
General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, has had driving-distraction guidelines for more than 15 years, since introducing its OnStar system, said Michael Robinson, the company's vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs.
In-car communications and mobile phones are providing an enormous safety benefit through automatic crash notifications and fast calls to 911, he said.
"The connectivity you're worried about for social media is the very same that enables us to save thousands of lives every year," Robinson said.
Other executives said consumers are going to use mobile phones regardless of the wishes of lawmakers or companies.
Asking whether people need to update Facebook in their cars is the wrong question, said Robert Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety and harmonization at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group.
"We live in a society where we demand to be connected, 24/7, 365 days a year," Strassburger said. "We have to design systems so people will want to tether their devices to their vehicles."