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Distracted Driving: LaHood’s Legacy Will Continue At The NHTSA

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced this week that he will be stepping down from his position at the head of the federal agency responsible for motor vehicle safety throughout the United States. His biggest legacy has been a strong fight against distracted driving. Although LaHood will be leaving the Department of Transportation, distracted driving will remain a top national priority.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration boss David Strickland, anti-distracted driving efforts are “a part of the NHTSA portfolio – it will always be part of the NHTSA portfolio.”

During his tenure at the Department of Transportation, LaHood saw almost all of the fifty states enact some kind of anti-texting-and-driving law. Currently, Florida is one of the very few exceptions but new legislation could soon change that.

In the meantime, the NHTSA is also pushing LaHood’s distracted driving focus in other ways. One big initiative is a set of voluntary guidelines that would help car companies minimize driving distractions. These guidelines don’t deal with texting and driving. Instead, they respond to a growing trend in recent car models: the rapid increase in the amount of visual and written information available to drivers.

More sophisticated displays and in-dash screens offer more than enough opportunities to distract even those drivers who diligently avoid using their phones. The NHTSA wants car makers to design their systems to minimize these problems. For example, re-designs could ensure that drivers can navigate all dashboard systems with just one hand and in a short amount of time.

While these voluntary guidelines could do a lot to help drivers stay focused on the road, distracted driving will be a significant safety problem for the foreseeable future. No matter how many state laws prohibit texting or how aware the public is of the well-established dangers, some drivers will always give in to the temptation to text.

Source: Detroit News, “Distracted driving to remain post-LaHood NHTSA focus,” David Shepardson, Jan. 31, 2013

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