Feds Weigh Ban On All Phone Use By Drivers
BLOOMBERG.COM - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he believes motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving, including hands-free calls, as his department begins research that may lead him to push for a ban.
LaHood, whose campaign against texting and making calls while driving has led to restrictions in 30 states, says his concerns extend to vehicle information and entertainment systems such as Ford Motor Co.'s Sync and General Motors Co.'s OnStar.
"I don't want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they're driving," LaHood said in an interview this week. "We need a lot better research on other distractions," including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems, he said.
Even without a ban, which would have to be implemented by individual states, LaHood's escalating campaign may limit the growth of vehicle features such as Sync, being added by automakers to attract younger buyers. His push also may reduce calls made from vehicles and the revenue of mobile-phone companies such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc.
LaHood, 64, said even hands-free phone conversations are a "cognitive distraction." Calling for a ban on hands-free communications is a possible outcome of research under way at the Transportation Department's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into all driver distractions, Olivia Alair, a department spokeswoman, said.
LaHood plans to meet with the heads of all makers of cars sold in the U.S. to discuss their cooperation in limiting distracted driving, he said in the Oct. 5 interview. He said he's not yet recommending restrictions on hands-free phone calls and didn't say when he might make a decision.
The transportation secretary may have little chance of getting a ban by the states even if he decides one is justified, said Christopher King, a telecommunications analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore.
"It's so ingrained at this point, I think banning that would be extremely difficult, bordering on folly," King said in an interview. "There would be no legitimate, public support for an outright ban."
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