2011
06.09

Well, are you connected? That’s the big that question everyone is asking each other these days. But the real question we should be asking is when is being connected too much? Today, everyone feels the need to be connected 24/7. At the dinner table, in the bathroom, on the road, just about everywhere, all the time. But is being connected putting our friends, family, and neighbors at risk? That is the real question that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood finds himself increasingly challenged with everyday as he continues to raise concerns about all the in-vehicle connectivity that automakers are equipping in the latest cars that are can lead to more driver distraction.

LaHood has been increasingly vocal about driver distraction and at the rate he is going, I wouldn’t be too surprised if he doesn’t encourage Washington to continue to fight to legislate rather than educate motorists while they are driving their latest hybrids or electric vehicles.

Lately LaHood has been challenging the car companies to stop equipping their vehicles with so much in-car gadgets that lull drivers away from focusing on the road and cause more accidents. His concerns stem from drivers checking their Facebook pages, tweeting, and texting while driving.

As driver safety continues to be foremost on LaHood’s mind, other companies such as Motorola Mobility are rewarding motorists for responsible driving behavior. Working with state and local police in key cities, Motorola will distribute Bluetooth devices to motorists who follow their state and local hands-free laws.

In fact, motorists from across the country are invited to visit Facebook.com/Motorola during the month of June to pledge to be “Responsible on the Road” by using hands-free technology if they need to communicate while driving. In return, Motorola will give motorists 50% off select Motorola hands-free devices. Motorola Mobility offers headsets and in-car speakerphones to help drivers stay compliant with state laws. Hands-free devices like the Motorola Roadster, a voice-enabled, in-car speakerphone, featuring the MotoSpeak app with text-to-speech and speech-to-text capability, make it easier for drivers to make or receive calls and to hear or respond to a text message while keeping their hands on the wheel.

Just like Motorola Mobility, BMW is using technology is help combat distracted driving, and it’s making consumers aware of it. The reality is people are becoming addicted to tweeting and texting, sometimes impairing their reaction time.

BMW began a new ad campaign this month that is pretty dramatic that really drives home the dangers of distracted driving. BMW’s commercial shows a young mother trying to text and drive at the same time which results in her getting into a car accident. The campaign, “Don’t TXT & Drive – Your family’s safety is in your hands. When the engine starts the texting stops.” You can liken these to the shocking and eye-opening anti-drunk-driving campaigns of the ‘80s.

Some might be concerned about the strong message, but perhaps it’s time. To reiterate again drivers just aren’t getting it. Once again, The Dept of Transportation says nearly 5,500 people died in crashes in 2009 that involved a distracted driver. That’s 5,500 people just in 2009 alone. Really, people? What’s more, The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., found 87% of teen drivers admit they text while behind the wheel. That’s a very scary statistic and frankly makes me a little nervous about getting out on the roads.

We continue to talk about in the magazine and on The Peggy Smedley Show about apps and programs for your phones that block and prevent drivers from receiving messages. The automakers and constantly working to improve in-vehicle connectivity to prevent driver distraction, but still, consumers just can’t help themselves.

As you can suspect, BMW’s goal is that public education will prevent irresponsible driving behavior, thereby avoiding the need for a government crackdown on in-vehicle connectivity, allowing it, and other car companies, to pursue others forms of in-car connectivity development.

As I see it, no one needs to text while driving. I love the in-car connectivity. I am a big of the tech-gadgets, but we must be responsible drivers. To me, texting while driving ranks right there with woman who apply their makeup or men who brush their teeth in their cars as the most indefensible activity to undertake while behind the wheel.

We will be talking more about this on Tuesday with Motorola Mobility and again with BMW on June 28 on The Peggy Smedley Show, 12 noon central. Candidly, we need more education, not regulation. So let’s work with Ray LaHood to educate.

Let’s be honest, the question really isn’t the technology so much, but do we need to be connected all the time? What are you really missing? Can it wait? Or more importantly, is the need to be connected all the time distracting you from doing what’s most important, which is keeping your eyes on the road? The real danger isn’t being distracted by in-vehicle tech per se, but it’s being distracted by your own bad habits.

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