Ray LaHood at Distraction.gov lectern

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood wants to make our roads a safer place. Distracted driving is arguably his number one issue, and LaHood is waging a concerted campaign to try and curb it. Is he taking things a step too far, though? According to Automotive News, LaHood has now stated that he believes motorists are distracted by any use of a mobile device while driving. This includes making hands-free calls through the use of in-car or in-ear Bluetooth devices. LaHood's department is going to begin researching all types of mobile device usage to see how they affect drivers. He also plans to meet with automakers to try and gain support for his campaign to eliminate distracting driving.

According to the report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration feels that Ray LaHood is focusing too closely on one area of motoring safety, rather than the bigger picture. NHTSA officials are quoted as saying that current distracted driving crash statistics may be inflated because not all law enforcement agencies are properly trained to recognize a distracted driving accident. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety even went so far as to release a study showing that new texting laws have not influenced accident rates in a positive manner.

Ray Lahood has quite an uphill battle on his hands. Even if he and his team can prove that hands-free usage of mobile devices increase accident rates, the practice is so deeply ingrained in the brains of the overall driving public – not to mention the businesses associated with it – that it will be difficult to convince motorists to not use their phones while driving at all. LaHood is optimistic, however,
"The bottom line for me is to get where we're at with seat belts and with drunk driving. When those programs were started, people were very skeptical that you could get people to buckle up."
So don't adopt the "You can pry my iPhone from my cold dead hands" attitude just yet. Secretary LaHood is merely investigating the matter at this point. There are no plans to call for a ban just yet, but at least one NHTSA official admits it's a possibility.

[Source: Automotive News – sub. req.| Image: Mark Wilson/Getty]