An Honest Man (Within Limits)

lahood Probably because the system needs a figurehead looking thoughtful, U.S. Transportation Secretaries in recent decades have not been nearly as barbarous as the cars-first reality over which they nominally preside. Ray LaHood, a Republican who once refused to participate in Newt Gingrich’s moronic stunts, is the current SOT. As far as is possible, he is an honest and decent one, too.

Take the latest news from LaHood:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says motorists are distracted by any use of mobile phones while driving – even when hands free – and his department has begun to do research that could lead him to call for a total ban, Bloomberg reports.

LaHood says his concerns include vehicle information systems such as Ford’s (F) Sync and General Motors‘ OnStar.

“I don’t want people talking on phones, having them up to their ear or texting while they’re driving,’ LaHood said. “We need a lot better research on other distractions,” including Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calls and the in-car systems, he said.

LaHood said even hands-free conversations are a “cognitive distraction.” He plans to meet with the heads the car companies on gaining their competition to limit distracted driving.

The Transportation Secretary is none-too-keen on OnStar’s experimentation with features that would allow voice updates of Facebook and Twitter.

“I’m absolutely opposed to all of that,” LaHood said. “That would be the biggest distraction of all. All of that is well beyond the idea that you’re really trying to avoid distracted driving.”

LaHood, in other words, is refusing to ignore the facts, despite automotive-industrial capitalists’ insistence on such.

Of course, being the chief public official supposedly in charge of transportation policy, LaHood’s ability to actually do anything to enforce his findings is pathetically tiny.  As reported by Automotive News, the federal Department of Transportation can only offer enticements, adoption of which is left up to individual states (note to the uninformed and non-U.S. residents: in the USA, the influence of money and capitalism over politics, horrendous as it is at the national level, is even stronger at the state level):

The Transportation Department’s powers to push further limits on distracted driving range from exhortations to setting standards backed by the federal government’s financial clout. The government previously awarded highway aid to states based on whether they raised the legal drinking age to 21 or required seatbelt use.

In any event, this is the kind of limited reform that is both woefully and even sinfully inadequate (in 2009 distracted driving was a factor in 5474 crash deaths out of a total of 33,808; that’s only 16 percent) and vitally important.  We here at DbC urge support for Secretary LaHood and groups like this one on this issue.  There are many thousands of  lives in the balance.