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Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board are accusing manufacturers of encouraging dangerous distracted driving practices. The chairman of the NTSB told reporters that companies such as Intel are contributing to car accident risk by focusing on technology that will sell instead of technology that is safe.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has made distracted driving an agency-wide priority since his appointment in 2009. Government groups have called for restrictions on gadget use while driving, but the NTSB has taken an even firmer stance in calling for a ban on all communications devices, even those that operate with hands-free technology. NTSB officials say that multi-tasking while driving is impossible, even for drivers who may think themselves particularly skilled.

Safety officials throughout the industry have accused manufacturers such as Intel of focusing on added technology instead of reducing operating risk. Additional vehicle technology simply adds distraction, according to many professionals. Furthermore, the pace at which technology development moves typically overwhelms legislative efforts to regulate transportation practices, a problem that could put even more drivers at risk as industry develops flashy, unsafe vehicle features.

Although Intel and other companies say that their in-vehicle technology incorporates important safety features, data indicates that any gadget use can compromise drivers’ concentration. The Transportation Department recommends that automakers refrain from using technology that could divert drivers’ attention for more than two seconds at a time and voluntary guidelines suggest that Internet-based communication be disabled during travel.

Auto manufacturers argue that existing data cannot provide enough evidence to restrict the implementation and installation of new, distraction-inducing technologies. The groups argue that specific technologies have not been independently evaluated, but an extensive body of general distracted-driving research exists to support government officials’ claims. Only time will tell which group will prevail in the continued turf war between technology and safety initiatives.

Statistics from 2010 indicate that nearly 10 percent of vehicle crashes were attributable to distracted driving, a practice that includes technology use, eating and talking with passengers, among other activities.

Source: The Washington Post, “Gadgets share blame for distracted driving, NTSB chief says,” Angela Greiling Keane, March 27, 2012

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