Friday, February 17, 2012

‘Distraction guidelines’ are … hold on! Gotta Facebook.

So I’m driving down the road and my Twitter informs me that the U.S. DOT has issued guidelines to automakers in an effort to curb distracted driving.

Hold on a sec. I’ll describe them to you after I retweet the story. There we go …

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, driving, and describing the DOT’s guidelines to automakers to keep the public’s attention focused on safe driving.

Hold on again. I got a voice message from the wife. She’s going to be home late from work. Don’t’ worry, it was a voice text and not a “text” text. OK, back to the discussion.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has rolled out a list of guidelines to automakers (LOL! A funny cat video on YouTube!) to limit the operation of electronic devices that are making their way into vehicles as standard features or options.

Did you know they are making cars that have Facebook and YouTube apps right on the dash? Yep. Drivers of passenger vehicles including light trucks and SUVs can browse the web on a built-in touch screen and make dinner reservations while they (Stop sign!!) drive.

That was a close one. Anyway, what I’m saying is these guidelines will hopefully reduce the time that a driver’s eyes and focus are away from the road.

Where did I put that that gum I just bought? I think it’s here in the console somewhere.

Phase one of the guidelines (because more will soon be posted on the DOT’s Facebook and Twitter pages) will limit device operation to one hand only (while the other stays on the wheel) and reduce look time away from the wheel to no more than two seconds.

Remember what the DOT said when big, bad truckers were supposedly texting all over the place: Anything that takes a driver’s focus away from the task – even eating a hamburger or putting on makeup – was a distraction.

The rule that banned texting and driving for truckers, and the follow-up rule banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving, were justified because, according to studies, a texting driver can have his or her eyes off the road for four seconds at a time, enough time to cover the length of a football field at 55 mph.

But according to the guidelines released to automakers on Thursday, Feb. 16, it’s going to be OK for John Q. Public to Facebook on his dash screen as long as he only takes his eyes off the road for two seconds at a time. So that would be, like, half a football field.

I understand that the DOT is in a bind. The automakers are only giving the public what they want. The bells and whistles are selling points for them (kind of like how they sell cars that can go 150 mph even though the speed limit is half that or lower). In an electronic age, the cars with the most gadgets are more desirable.

But common sense must prevail. The individual behind the wheel, no matter what vehicle he or she is driving, must remain diligent and attentive to the primary task.

This blog has contained quite a bit of satire (Editor’s note: I’m not reading, Facebooking or tweeting while driving!), but I’m going to conclude with some serious statements.

“As an organization focused on safety, including safety on our roadways, we want to make sure these new systems don’t take eyes or hands away from the only task that matters when you're in the driver’s seat: driving safely,” DOT officials stated on the Fastlane blog.

We couldn’t agree more with that.

And about texting, truckers are OK with the ban because they recognize the danger. They just want an even playing field as four-wheelers full of gadgets buzz around them. Truckers are also finding a way to operate despite the ban on hand-held cellphones even if they disagree with some of the justifications behind that particular rule.

To say that truckers could be a little miffed, or at least baffled, that four-wheelers can have touch screens and Facebook while they can’t even call their delivery customers on a cellphone could be a bit of an understatement.

Professional truckers are among the safest drivers, if not the safest, on the road today. Some are going to break the rules, and there are consequences and punishments for those as outlined in the rules and regs.

I think we can all agree that if you’re driving, no matter what vehicle you’re operating, you need to be safely focused on the roadway.

It’s going to be a battle of mind-over-matter for someone surrounded by the latest and greatest gadgetry, and society is going to have to bear the consequences.