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Losing LaHood: What it means for war on distracted driving

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 Jamie LaReau

DETROIT (Jan. 30, 2013) — I felt a lump in my throat reading the headline the other day that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood plans to step down.

I have no political affiliation to Mr. LaHood, but I consider him my kindred spirit in our mutual concern with distracted driving.

And I worry that whoever replaces him won't wage the same level of war against it.

Regular readers know my opposition to technology that takes a driver's mind and eyes off the road. And that extends beyond talking or texting on a mobile phone. Like Mr. LaHood, I believe in-vehicle touch screen and voice-recognition software, such as MyFord Touch and the Cadillac CUE system to name a few, can be just as distracting to a driver as a mobile phone.

Mr. LaHood said that his department has been on a "rampage" against behind-the-wheel distractions. He believes that it's not enough to keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road—a driver's mind should be on the road, too. That's not possible if the driver is engaged in a conversation on the phone or fumbling through touch screens to adjust the temperature.

Drivers will always be subject to some level of distraction. Each time a driver changes a radio station, tweaks the climate settings or converses with another occupant, he or she is distracted momentarily.

But Mr. LaHood's "rampage" was a big step for the industry—to bring awareness and keep the conversation going about the importance of paying attention and mitigating distractions as much as possible behind the wheel.

I hope his replacement stays the course.

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Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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